Belfast Telegraph

Higgins relishing the chance to regain top spot

On mission: Chris Higgins is ready to take on the Devils
On mission: Chris Higgins is ready to take on the Devils

By Adam McKendry

When he agreed to rejoin the Belfast Giants back at the end of December, these kinds of weekends were the ones Chris Higgins wanted to play in.

Come the end of the season, the Giants (34-11-2) may reflect on other weekends as more important - the Continental Cup finals, perhaps, or the upcoming Challenge Cup decider - but right now, this double-header against Elite League title rivals the Cardiff Devils (34-7-5) has all the makings of the biggest of their season.

The two sides have battled it out all season for supremacy, with the Giants leading the way early thanks to a hot start, only to be overtaken at the start of the year as the Devils roared back.

With four points on offer and just three points separating the two sides at the top of the table - with the league-leading Devils having a game in hand still to play in Fife - the two clashes tonight and tomorrow at the SSE Arena (both face-off 7pm) have become must-wins for the Giants after last weekend's 5-0 drubbing at the Glasgow Clan.

Come tomorrow night, the Giants could go back to the summit of the Elite League for the first time since the start of January, or potentially see their chances of winning a first league title since 2014 go up in smoke.

"It's exciting. Cardiff are a great team, they've had years of being top of the league but we're only a couple of points behind and it's great we have a chance to pick up some big points," said winger Higgins.

Top of the Giants' to-do list will be to find a way to stifle the Devils' talismanic forward Joey Martin, although Charles Linglet and Mike Hedden will provide additional offensive threats, while Gleason Fournier is having a career-best season on the blue line with 18 goals and 62 points.

The Giants have been given a boost, however, as Cardiff will be without key forward Sean Bentivoglio for tonight's game as he serves the second leg of a two-match suspension.

As far as motivation goes, the Giants will need very little beyond the opportunity to retake the lead in the title race with two wins, however the chance to avenge last month's double-header in Cardiff will no doubt be in the back of their minds as well.

The Devils recorded back-to-back wins at the Viola Arena to open up a nine-point gap at the top of the standings in the middle of last month, and the hosts will be eager to return the favour this weekend.

Higgins missed those duels, however he admits that the hurt the team felt after the losses was evident the following week. He added: "It was disappointing I missed that weekend because it's always fun playing back-to-back games against the top teams.

"I approach every game the same way, but you recognise it's Cardiff and it's going to be a massive weekend."

Indeed, for that very reason, Higgins could be the Giants' secret weapon when they take to the ice.

The 32-year-old American has been sensational since being coaxed back to Belfast after a year out of the game, scoring six goals and 18 points in 15 games.

He's settled back in nicely at his old stomping ground and, having not been involved in Cardiff last month, is excited to show the Devils exactly what he can do this time around.

"It's only really over the last couple of weeks that I've really started to truly feel like myself out there, which is good coming down the stretch here," he said.

"We have a great team in here, a great group of guys that come in and work hard every day, and we have the same goal and mindset that we want to win every Championship we can, so we're ready to go this weekend."

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