Colin Shields won’t know for another few weeks just how important his goal against the Sheffield Steelers on Saturday night turns out to be.
The Belfast Giants captain struck the winner in a 6-5 thriller, 24 hours after Steve Thornton’s side had fought back from 4-1 down before pulling off an amazing third period comeback to beat the Steelers 5-4 at the Odyssey.
Shields strike in the Sheffield Arena together with Coventry’s 7-2 loss to the Nottingham Panthers saw the Giants reduce Blaze’s lead at the top of the Elite League table to just a single point.
That became three last night, but only just as Coventry needed overtime to see off the Edinburgh Capitals.
Although both the Giants and Coventry are in action this coming Saturday night — against the Edinburgh Capitals and Hull Stingrays respectively — already eyes will be cast towards Sunday when the top two go into what will now be a mega battle in the Skydome.
It is the first of two games between the teams between now and the conclusion of the title race, but victories in those matches alone won’t be enough to take the Giants above Coventry and claim the crown.
They need Paul Thompson’s side to lose another game along the way. Looking for favours is far from ideal, but the Giants do appear to have the more straightforward run-in, with the only other away games being in a double-header against Edinburgh.
If the Giants do manage to pull off an amazing title triumph, there
is no doubt that they will look back at Shields’ strike on Saturday and the double that Evan Cheverie fired right at the death of Friday’s game as hugely significant.
“The only thing that we can do is keep winning and keep the pressure on Coventry,” said Shields.
“We want to give ourselves a chance to get at them by winning our games and then winning our games against them.
“The way things are going anything can happen.”
At this stage of the season — and in particular in the face of adversity — it’s who steps up and who handles the pressure best that normally comes out on top and Shields is encouraged by the signs that he has seen in the team that Thornton has built.
“Nobody played badly or exceptionally well over the weekend, it was a real team thing and you could see how everyone really pulled together at the times when we were 4-1 down on Friday and 3-1 down after 15 minutes on Saturday,” said Shields.
“Everyone stepped up and put themselves on the line for the team.
“Even when we were 4-1 down with not very long left on Friday night nobody thought we were beaten, nobody gave up and when you win a game like that it gives you confidence.
“We have a really big game against Coventry next Sunday and it’s amazing to think that a 54 game season could come down to one game against them on the last night. But those games where there is a lot at stake are the ones you want to play in.”