Belfast Giants 3-0 Nottingham Panthers
Leading scorer Liam Morgan had a two-goal night and Shane Owen kept his first shut-out as the Belfast Giants recorded their first league win of the season in a 3-0 victory over the Nottingham Panthers at the SSE Arena.
Morgan recorded his second and third goals of the campaign to put the Giants into an unassailable lead, with Curtis Hamilton adding an empty netter with 37 seconds left in the game to ensure the Giants wouldn't suffer back-to-back defeats to begin the season, improving to 1-0-1.
It was a game that the Giants were always on top in, looking superior to their Erhardt Conference rivals for the full three periods, to the extent that Owen only needed 26 saves to keep his first shut-out in teal, rarely required to make any significant stops.
The result also snaps a two-game losing skid, while head coach Adam Keefe will be delighted with how much sharper and more creative the offense looked than in previous games, with only a sublime performance from Panthers netminder Kevin Carr - 48 saves - keeping the scoreline from getting any bigger.
Carr needed to come up with a couple of massive saves in the third to deny first Patryk Wronka a tap-in rebound on the powerplay, then Ben Lake on the doorstep shortly after, but unfortunately for him he didn't get any support from his offense.
One point of relief for Adam Keefe was finally seeing his powerplay strike after a two-game drought, grabbing the opening goal of the game at 9:13 of the first period as Morgan opened his account for the night.
With Guillaume Lepine in the box for holding, some nice passing around the periphery set up Morgan at the top of the left circle, and his shot deflected off a Panthers stick in front to beat Carr high.
Belfast did get somewhat fortunate as the Panthers rang the iron twice, the first on a penalty kill of their own in the first with Matt Pelech off for interference, a shot from the blue-line getting a redirect in front and kissing the post as it slid by the cage with Owen beaten.
The second, which came during a period of Panthers pressure in the second, was even nervier as Mark Matheson unleashed a thundering drive from the blue-line that clanged off the post and away with Owen screened out in front.
Indeed, the hosts needed a big couple of penalty kills in the second period to reach the intermission still with their one-goal lead, killing off Pelech's second call of the night, this time for roughing, and then Ben Lake's tripping call.
The biggest kill, however, came when Brian Ward took a major-plus-game penalty for tripping with nine seconds left in the second period - what looked to be an odd call - but the Belfast PK unit came up big, not only killing all of it but spending a large part on the powerplay when they draw concurrent penalties from Danny Fick (hooking) and Ollie Betteridge (tripping).
With that behind them, the Giants ensured they wouldn't suffer any late drama. Strong work down the boards from Lake allowed him to fire a pass across to Lewis Hook, he in turn dished the puck across to Morgan, who was driving the net, and he applied the finish at 14:14 of the final period.
Another late kill from the Giants to a third Pelech penalty was the confirmation that the game was up, and when Hamilton sent the puck into the empty cage from center ice for the third, that was game, set and match.
The Giants are next in action when they return to Challenge Cup duty by welcoming the Fife Flyers to the SSE Arena next Saturday (7pm) as the first of a home-away double-header.