The Belfast Giants beat the defending Elite League champions, Nottingham Panthers, 4-3 at the Odyssey Arena on Thursday night to move 13 points clear at the top of the standings.
Their ninth win in a row opened up a 16 point gap between the sides and the Giants are in prime position to take the title away from the Panthers.
This was a closely fought game in which the visitors came from behind twice to tie the score but Paul Adey’s side have found a way to win tight games, one of the reasons they are dominating the season so far, and Kevin Saurette netted the third period winner as the Giants began the New Year as they finished the old. They rolled to an early 2-0 lead. At 6:57 of the first period after Adam Keefe distracted Panthers defenceman Joe Grimaldi, the Panthers turned the puck over in their own zone and Craig Peacock had time to pick his spot from the left circle and fire the puck between the pads of Panthers netminder Neil Conway.
Thirty-one seconds later they doubled their advantage. Calvin Elfring took the puck around the Panthers net, pulling Conway out of position, and as the goalie lay prone on the ice the puck found its way to the stick of Cody Brookwell who buried it.
With a comfortable lead and dominant the Giants then allowed the Panthers back into the game.
Netminder Stephen Murphy doesn’t make many mistakes but he failed to hold on to a shot from Robert Lachowicz and Matt Ryan was on hand to smuggle in the rebound.
An altercation between Keefe and Ryan led to a long delay on the ice as the officials sorted out the penalties and the Panthers made the most of it as Grimaldi’s shot was tipped in front by David Clarke to tie the score at 2-2 after 20 minutes.
The Panthers began the second period on top but failed to convert on a couple of powerplay chances and when the Giants got a second chance with the man advantage they made the most of it.
Robby Sandrock’s slap pass found Chris Higgins who picked out Peacock and he scored at the second attempt.
The Giants lead was preserved by Murphy who made two big stops in the closing seconds of the period.
But with 7:35 to go in the game, after a silly penalty taken by Darryl Lloyd, the Panthers made it 3-3 when Petr Kalus banged home the one timer.
The Giants had to go and win the game for a third time and they did just over a minute later. On a delayed penalty call to Matt Francis, and with an extra attacker on the ice, Conway made two saves but couldn’t corral the puck allowing Saurette to score what turned out to be the game winner.
Next up for the Giants is another home game against the Dundee Stars tomorrow night.