Belfast Giants 5-2 Glasgow Clan
A double from Elgin Pearce saw the Belfast Giants earn a 5-2 win over the Glasgow Clan on You Can Play night at the SSE Arena and return to the win column in the Elite League on Saturday.
The winger found the net at 6:56 of the opening period to kick off the scoring, pinging it into the top corner from the right circle, and then added the Giants' fourth on the powerplay at 5:16 of the final frame for his eighth of the campaign.
That eased concerns after the Clan staged a worrying comeback as Nolan LaPorte and Matt Haywood both fired responses for the visitors after going 3-0 down, but the Giants had enough in the tank to pull away in the third.
It was somewhat fitting that the SSE Arena was sold out on the Giants' You Can Play night, promoting hockey for everyone, and they were treated to an impressive night of offensive hockey from the Giants.
As well as Pearce having a two-goal night, Curtis Hamilton and David Goodwin both tallied a goal and an assist, while Bobby Farnham and Ryan Lowney each added two assists.
The capacity crowd were even treated to Paul Swindlehurst breaking a team-leading 27-game scoring drought, the Team GB defenceman ripping in a rocket from the half-boards at 8:40 of the final period to round off the scoring at 5-2.
"If you get it in a place like that, you're always going to shoot it. Get it in your wheelhouse, you have to go for goal!" said Swindlehurst.
"Thankfully I got a hold of it and it went in. There wasn't much celebration, I'm not used to scoring often! It's not my game to score, I'm a stay-at-home defenceman, so if I'm stopping goals at the other end, I'm happy."
Netminder Shane Owen made 19 saves as the Giants go to 22-13-2 on the season and keep pace with the Sheffield Steelers at the top of the standings, while also winning the season series with the Clan 6-1-1.
"I liked our first period, we possessed the puck quite well. We went into the period break and talked about backing that up and I liked our start to the second period, but then those penalties... no matter how good your kill is, you're fatiguing players," said head coach Adam Keefe.
"Obviously not an ideal start to the third period with a goal against, but from that point on the guys responded well and took over the rest of the period. Really happy with that."
The Giants were the first side to be shorthanded when Pearce took a call for tripping up Matt Pufahl, but he made up for his infringement as soon as he was out of the box.
The kill unit did its job and Pearce rewarded them, taking the puck into the right circle and sniping one into the top corner past Glasgow back-up Jordan McLaughlin at 6:56 for 1-0.
"Any time you leave the guys down, you want to put out there and have a good couple shifts after that. I was lucky to score one," said Pearce.
That lead was then doubled at 14:53, although this time McLaughlin perhaps should have done better with Hamilton's rising shot from the blue-line that seemed to deceive the netminder and find the top shelf for 2-0.
It took the hosts just 25 seconds of the middle frame for the add a third, Ben Lake and Goodwin going on the breakaway, with the latter applying the finish into the top corner from the right circle for 3-0.
Belfast killed off a too many men call to keep their kill unit rolling at a perfect clip, but they were eventually breached when Lowney was pinged for slashing.
There was a degree of misfortune involved as LaPorte's slapshot from the top of the left circle took a harsh deflection off Matt Pelech's skate, but either way the puck found the twine for 3-1 at 9:05.
The Giants' special teams rebounded by seeing out calls to Pearce (roughing) and Brian Ward (tripping) to make up for being breached, but the powerplay failed to connect when LaPorte sat for abuse of official.
That took the Giants to the second intermission still with the two-goal lead, but it would take the Clan only 1:24 of the final period to reduce it to a one-goal game again.
A misplay at the blue-line allowed Glasgow captain Haywood to gain the zone, and his well-placed wrister beat Owen to his glove side and found the net to make it 3-2 early in the third frame.
But just as soon as the game had gotten nervy, the Giants were gifted a response when Mikael Lidhammar took a needless slashing call in the Belfast defensive zone, and the hosts took full advantage.
Hamilton fired in the shot from the point and while McLaughlin made the initial stop, Pearce was there to deposit the rebound at 5:16 to restore the safety cushion at 4-2.
"Very big goal. At 3-2 you're one bounce away from it being a tie game, and you're one bounce from gaining your lead. When we got that powerplay goal, that was massive," said Keefe.
And Swindlehurst made the result safe by saving the best goal for last, slamming an absolute rocket from along the left-hand boards at 8:40 to make it 5-2, allowing the Giants to coast home to victory.
Although they conceded shorthanded, the Giants' penalty kill was strong yet again at 4-for-5 on the night, while Pearce's powerplay marker contributed to a 1-for-3 night on the man advantage.
The Giants will look to record their first four-point weekend since January 4 when they head to the Guildford Flames for a Sunday evening face-off (6pm) at the Spectrum.
"It's going to be a tough game tomorrow, a different game. We're playing one of the fastest teams in the league," added Keefe.
"We need to find a way to come out with two points. That's what good teams do and we want to be one of those teams down the stretch battling for the title.
"We talked about having the ability about following one performance with another tomorrow, and going on the road and finding a way to win regardless of fatigue.
"We'll not rest on tonight. We want a four-point weekend."