Sylvestre's treble helps fire Giants to joint top
Sebastien Sylvestre struck a hat-trick as the Belfast Giants hit the Nottingham Panthers for six.
The French-Canadian marksman scored once in each period in the Giants 6-2 victory at the National Ice Centre - a result that sees Adam Keefe's team locked on 35 points with the Cardiff Devils at top of the Elite League table.
It is now seven wins in the last eight league games for the Giants, with this one being one of the most hard fought after they found themselves 1-0 and 2-1 down in an end-to-end first period, with Jim Vandermeer and Sylvestre scoring, before taking control with three unanswered goals in the second from Brendan Connolly, Sylvestre and David Rutherford.
Sylvestre then sealed the win five minutes from the end.
Mathieu Brisebois missed a great chance to give the Panthers the lead on an early powerplay before they did open the scoring at 4:52 - just four seconds after the Giants had successfully killed the penalty.
Yann Sauve and Alexander Mokshantsev set up the chance and when the puck broke kindly for Mark Derlago he had the simply task of beating Giants goaltender Jackson Whistle.
It became four-on-four hockey after Mathieu Gagnon and Connolly were sent to the box in the same incident.
With more space on the ice the Giants broke forward and Vandermeer collected the puck and cracked home a shot which arrowed past Panthers goaltender Michael Garnett.
Ashley Tait - who came back into the Giants line-up after being signed as emergency cover for last weekend - came close to turning the game on its head, but it was the Panthers who struck next, 74 seconds from the end of the first period. Tim Billingsley skated through on his own to beat Whistle, but the goal was only given after a video review.
The Giants were level going into the first break, however, when Sylvestre scored seven seconds before the buzzer. Colin Shields provided the measured pass to find Sylvestre all on his own in front of the net and he took his time before beating Garnett.
The second period belonged to the Giants, with three goals in just over 10 minutes to take the game away from the Panthers.
The first came 1:53 after the restart and had a slice of good fortune attached.
Panthers' Robert Farmer missed a chance at one end, the puck broke down the ice for Connolly and bore down on Garnett before firing into the top corner of the net.
Connolly then turned provider, finding Sylvestre with an accurate pass for him to finish.
A powerplay three minutes later brought about the Giants fifth goal of the night. Half a minute after Brisebois had been sent to the box Rutherford chased down the puck after it was sent forward by Vandermeer and took it in on goal before beating Garnett.
Raphael Bussieres missed a gilt edged chance to get one back for the Panthers, who then started the third period on a five-on-three powerplay.
Whistle was called upon to make a couple of big saves before the Panthers thought they had reduced the deficit. The light when on behind the Giants goal, but the referee didn't award the goal.
That didn't matter when Jeff Mason and Shields set up Sylvestre for his hat-trick goal at 54:43 to ensure there would be no Panthers comeback.