The Belfast Giants closed the gap to the Nottingham Panthers at the top of the Elite League after a hard fought and exciting 4-3 overtime win over the Braehead Clan at the Odyssey Arena.
The Giants never led in the 60 minutes of regulation, coming from behind three times, and with 2:37 remaining in the sudden death five-minute period Jeff Mason’s pass was tipped in by Greg Stewart to clinch a vital victory.
With the Panthers losing to the Sheffield Steelers the Giants are four points behind in second place but with two games in hand.
It was an end-to-end clash with the Clan who despite being short-handed started the game brightly and capitalised on a couple of Giants giveaways in their own zone by taking the lead at 5:08.
NHLer Drew Miller set up Matt Haywood who was unmarked and he comfortably beat Giants netminder Stephen Murphy.
Braehead had a number of other excellent scoring opportunities but couldn’t take advantage and gradually the home team, in front of the biggest crowd of the season so far, began to get a grip of the game.
The pressure told when Stewart equalised at 14:38. After recycling the puck the tall forward took up position in front of Clan goalie Garrett Zemiak and was on hand to knock in the rebound at the second attempt after Robby Sandrock’s shot from the point was saved.
The teams shared four goals in the middle period.
It took the visitors just 21 seconds after the restart to retake the lead.
On a holdover powerplay from the first period it was Miller who was on the end of a perfect feed to make it 2-1.
However it was a solid forecheck and good recycling of the puck that led to the Giants tying the game once again at 26:01.
Eventually Mason picked out Kevin Saurette with the centering pass and he scored his first goal as a Giant in his third game for the team.
The Breahead powerplay was causing the Giants problems and they made it 2-for-2 on the night with the extra man at 31:43 to take the lead for the third time.
This time defenceman Davide Nicoletti’s wrist shot from the high slot found a clear path through the heavy traffic in front of Murphy to beat him high and under the crossbar.
But two minutes later the Giants made it a 3-3 game by scoring on a powerplay of their own.
Noah Clarke forced a turnover deep in the Clan zone and his pass from behind the goal line found Sandrock stepping in from his point position to fire the puck home.
There were chances galore in the final 20 minutes for both sides.
Braehead rang the post twice while the Giants hit metal once but despite outshooting the Clan 45-25 the game headed to overtime.
It was Stewart, with his second strike of the night, that sealed two big points.