The Nottingham Panthers are both proud and honoured to be the first UK squad to lift the Continental Cup. With last Friday’s game in mind, they would definitely be a team coming to Belfast with an extra spring in their step.
On the other hand the Giants were placed above the Panthers in the league standings. Currently building a consistent challenge to track down runaway leaders Cardiff Devils, the Giants are clawing back point after point and narrowing the gap.
The great run of results, which they achieved over the festive period, must continue to have any chance of lifting a trophy this season after two years without a cup of any kind.
Well the Belfast Giants defeated the Nottingham Panthers 5-4 on Friday night’s at the SSE Arena. Thanks was due to a hat trick from James Desmarais in a ‘man of the match’ display by the forward.
That win saw the Giants move to within one point of the first placed Devils with the Belfast side having played two games more than the Welsh side.
Jackson Whistle got the nod in the Belfast net, and Jeff Mason was the Giants’ healthy scratch for Friday’s massive league clash.
Giants players celebrate with Jim Vandermeer (9) on scoring early against the Panthers
You could not have asked for a better start when Belfast’s Jim Vandermeer shot a wicked slap shot from the blue line, bulging the Panthers’ net with less than two minutes played.
Next up was David Rutherford netting after some great inter play from Ryan Martinelli and Alex Foster. Two up and the Giants were on fire… but wait…
An almost unbelievable thirty-nine seconds later James Desmarais finished off a fast passing move to make it 3-0 assisted by Steve Saviano and Colin Shields.
The Belfast fans were in delirious mood – the Panthers wondering what just hit them. Just to throw something else into the mix, Adam Keefe dropped the gloves with the Panthers’ Jeff Brown. This woke up the visitors and brought further delight to the Belfast faithful.
Adam Keefe (47) and Jeff Brown (16) heavily at the task in hand with shirts half off
That was all in the opening period so what lay ahead for the fans to enjoy in the next two periods? The middle period was a display of goaltending excellence with Jackson Whistle and Jindrich Pacl in the Nottingham goal pulling off save after save to keep the score at 3-0 to the home side.
Pacl was introduced to the game following the Giants’ third goal of the game replacing Miika Wilkman. .
Finally the Panthers started to find their rhythm as Jeff Brown netted his twelfth goal of the season opening the Panthers scoring four minutes into the third period to reduce the deficit to two goals.
Close-uo on James Desmarais (79) Giants goal scoring heroagainst the Panthers
James Desmarais netted his second of the night, and the Giants’ fourth with a powerplay goal to extend the home side’s lead to 4-1. The game was turning into a goal rush as big, strong power forward Chris Lawrence scored for the Panthers as they turned up the heat on the Giants.
It was James Desmarais completing his hat-trick only fifteen seconds later, when his pass was deflected into the back of the Panthers’ net that onlookers began to wonder just what the outcome could be.
With both goalies having to pick the puck out of the back of their net it then became Whistle’s turn to retrieve Robert Farmer’s shot from his goal thus making the finished result some what uncertain.
Jason Williams and Brad Moran assisted Nottingham’s third goal by Farmer. The tension in the game brought both fans to the edges of their seats as things grew more dramatic. With less than two minutes left on the game clock the Panthers drew to within one goal when Matt Carter scored, assisted by Dan Spang.
Cory Neilson Panthers Head Coach
Cory Neilson, the Panthers coach pulled Paci from the Nottingham goal to gain the extra out skater.
The Giants battled bravely to keep the Panthers from tying the score for the remaining seconds of the game to earn a well deserved Friday night home win to move up one point behind the first placed Cardiff Devils.
So the final score was the Stena Line Belfast Giants 5 and the Nottingham Panthers 4 – the Giants’ Man of the Match was indeed #79 James Desmarais.
Next up on Saturday night were the Giants versus the Dundee Stars with Belfast finding goals from everywhere on the squad. The pressure of a second place ranking did not hinder the Giants in their quest to track down league leaders Cardiff after a convincing 6-0 thrashing of the Stars in the SSE Arena.
Michael Forney (14) against Panthers with the puck between his skates
This time Michael Forney (24) knows where the puck is.
Michael Forney opened the scoring mid way through the first period as the Giants looked to exert control on the game early. Next up was Steve Saviano who increased the Giants’ score line to 2-0 with just two minutes left in the opening period.
Steve Saviano (12) scoresagainst the Stars with Fallow (29) looking the other way
The second period continued the Giants’ dominance going three up just over a minute in to the period through James Desmarais. Their continued pressure saw the score line raise to 5-0 before the second intermission, with Chris Higgins and Jonathan Boxill finding the back of the net.
Chris Higgins (68) gets on the score sheet as well
James Desmarais completed the win with a goal late in the third period, while goaltender Stephen Murphy finished the game with seventeen saves to record his third Elite League shut out of the season.
The Giants return to action this coming Saturday and Sunday with back-to-back away games against the Sheffield Steelers. The next Giants’ home game is on Wednesday 8th February against the Cardiff Devils in the 2nd Leg of the Challenge Cup Semi-Final. Then, Friday 10th February against the Dundee Stars in the Elite League – both games face-off at 7.00 PM.
So the final score was the Stena Line Belfast Giants 6 and the Dundee Stars 0 – the Giants’ Man of the Match was #14 Michael Forney.
The Giants are on fire breathing heavily on the Cardiff Devils’ tail, both battling for the Elite League title and the final round of the Challenge Cup. Remember though, the Sheffield Steelers also have aspirations for both titles as well.
Written by Wayne Hardman