Confidence is a major thing in hockey. When things are going well then you think you can go into any game and believe you can win. On the flip side, if you’re in a horrendous run where you can’t buy a win for love or money then you start to wonder where the next one is going to come from. Thankfully for the Giants, they have really started to find a bit of form as the business end of the season gets into full swing.
Giants headed into the first of three games on the Friday night against a Guildford Flames side capable of throwing a banana skin under the home side’s title winning aspirations. It was the first game of another home double header, and boy was game one a close run affair. After forty minutes of play had produced no score and a mere 15 shots on goal apiece; it was the visiting Flames who broke the tie through an unassisted strike by John Dunbar four and half minutes in. However, cometh the time cometh the Captain to get his side level: Blair Riley finding the net with his 27th goal of the season.
But the Flames hadn’t read the script, surely they were supposed to roll over and let the Giants win convincingly from now on? You would have thought that but with 5:41 left, they were back in front with Welshman Ben Davies doing his hometown club a massive favour with the Flames second goal. The Giants had to dig in again, and that they did to conjure up a second equaliser with 2:10 from club legend Colin Shields. Neither side could find a regulation time winner and so we went into overtime, and it took a bit of magic from the man known as “The Belfast Datsyuk” to garner the extra point for Adam Keefe’s men.
That win took the Giants to within a single point of leaders Cardiff, quite a remarkable change in fortunes from mid-January when the Devils led by eleven and seemingly out of sight. What would Saturday bring against the same Flames side? Well despite being slightly outshot after two periods, the Giants showed ruthless efficiency to open up a 4-0 lead with Jonathan Ferland, Jordan Smotherman (his second goal in three games), Kendall McFaull and Higgins all lighting the lamp. Yet Calle Ackered pulled one back, yet another powerplay strike from this hugely impressive Swede, in the first 31 seconds of period three and then Kruise Reddick added another at 49:11 to give the Flames hope.
Giants needed to get back on the horse and avoid another wobble and thankfully for them, the banana skin was swerved with a three goal blast in 59 seconds that put the game beyond doubt. David Rutherford, Jonathan Boxill (yes, a real collectors piece) and Josh Roach all netting past former Clan and Stars netminder Travis Fullerton. Still there was time for a second scrap of the night, Rutherford had dropped the gloves with Jesse Craige late in the second, this time it was Boxill against Brett Ferguson. The scoreline though remained unaltered and the Giants had recorded a 7-2 win for their seventh win in a row. With Cardiff edging past Coventry 6-5 in South Wales, it made Sunday interesting.
The third game in as many nights had the Giants on the road, and over to the Lace City to face a stuttering Panthers side whose title dreams have evaporated once more after such a fantastic start. The Giants were without former Panther Boxill, who was serving a one match suspension after his altercation on Saturday. It was a game which the Giants led twice, through McFaull (doing that #27 jersey proud which is so synomous with Paxton Schulte) and Dustin Johner but each time the Panthers came on parity thanks to their top scorer Alex Guptill and young Brit Ollie Betteridge. They went to claim the extras in overtime, handing the Giants a first loss in eight, GB internationalist Brett Perlini with the game winner.
That result put the Giants a top of the EIHL standings for a few hours, as the Giants had more regulation wins than the Devils. Yet Devils suffered a loss of their own but they had come back from a 3-0 deficit in Guildford to force overtime in Surrey. That game eventually went to a shootout and the home side took the extras. So the margin remains at one, and more and more looks like the double header in the Odyssey is going to be a couple of games that could determine the destiny of the title. Next up for the Giants though is a Valentine’s Night date with the Clan as they look to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit and make the Challenge Cup Final once again. The domestic Grand Slam is still on..
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