Giants flash past Lightning thanks to Riley's treble
Belfast Giants 5 Milton Keynes Lightning 1
Captain Blair Riley struck for a hat-trick as the Belfast Giants returned to the top of the Elite League table in dominant fashion as they swept aside the Milton Keynes Lightning 5-1 at the SSE Arena.
Riley led from the front with a brilliant treble, while Lewis Hook and Darcy Murphy both added strikes that see the Giants take back top spot from the Cardiff Devils.
Having seen the Devils overtake them only a day previous, the pressure was on Adam Keefe's men to retake it with Cardiff not in action last night, and they did so easily.
Netminder Tyler Beskorowany was once again on top form, albeit he wasn't tested very much, while the entire line-up contributed towards the two points.
That's now back-to-back wins for the Giants ahead of their remaining two games this weekend that sees them take on the Glasgow Clan tonight and the Dundee Stars tomorrow.
Belfast burst out to the perfect start, taking the lead after just 3:56 when former Lightning ace Hook gave the hosts the advantage, beating Adam Goss in the Lightning net after finishing off a rebound following some good work by linemates Patrick Dwyer and Kyle Baun.
The fact that Milton Keynes back-up Goss was starting reflected where the visitors' priorities lay, with regular starter Patrick Killeen left on the bench.
And, duly, the lead was doubled late in the period when Riley grabbed his first, combining well with the classy Dwyer to finish past the unfortunate Goss at 15:46.
Belfast's dominance of the game was reflected in a lopsided 17-11 shot count at the end of the first period, and it would only get better in the second.
Indeed, if the game wasn't already gone by this stage, then when Riley added a third - his second - with a brilliant solo finish on a breakaway at 28:30, then that was likely all she wrote.
And Murphy added some more gloss to the scoreline at 32:56 when he put himself on the scoresheet, supplying the finishing touch to a move started by Kevin Raine and assisted by the exceptional Riley.
If the first period was one-sided, then the 18-7 shot count in the second spoke volumes about how the game was going.
The visitors weren't to go home completely empty handed, however, as they hit back in the third period when Cole Shudra finally found a way past Beskorowany at 49:47 after some good work from Georgs Golovkovs and Harry Ferguson to set up the Sheffield loanee.
But it was Riley's night, and he capped it all off by adding his hat-trick goal at 54:37, with the goal coming unassisted.
The Canadian skated in on Goss and beat him with a fine shot short-handed - with linemate David Rutherford in the box for a tripping call - to put the seal on a fine night at the office for the hosts, who went back to the top of the three with a statement victory.
The Giants are back in action tonight when they take on the Glasgow Clan at the SSE Arena (face-off 7pm), and they complete their three-game weekend with the visit of the Dundee Stars to Belfast tomorrow (also 7pm).