Cracking away win: Belfast Giants 2-3 Sheffield Steelers (final score)
Sheffield Steelers' upward trajectory continued with a hard-earned win at Belfast, a victory which saw them catch their hosts up in the points race and take their place as second in the table.
It was a bruising encounter but it represented the seventh straight win for Sheffield - and their first this season over the Northern Irish.
The teams are now locked on the same points behind leaders Cardiff Devils.
Friday night started with a coming together of Steeler Colton Fretter and Giants’ Spiro Goulakas.
They are adversaries from their last time on the ice - a rumpus which led to a six game ban for the Sheffield winger.
It was clear that the bad feeling between them needed to be resolved and the pair were soon at each other.
At the end of the dust-up Goulakos received a 2+10 instigator penalty which put Sheffield on the Power Play.
It was a battling, no-holds-barred session with Zack Fitzgerald and Andreas Jamtin taking also taking trips to the penalty box.
Sheffield though kept composure in front of their own net, something they have achieved over the past few games.
And they built on that to take the lead when Eric Neiley, making his debut for Sheffield, engineered a play down the right wing.
Matt Marquardt fired at Jackson Whistle and his follow up ended up in the back of the net, at 17;05 to give Steelers a lead going into the first interval at the SSE Arena.
It was the 30-year-old Canadian’s 15th success in domestic competition.
Giants pressed and restored parity Goulakos’ effort struck the post and Steve Saviano was in the right place to put the pack past Ervins Mustukovs, at 31.29.
Coach Paul Thompson had previously said he wanted to “kick back” after losing all four previous games to Giants - and his team did precisely that.
Jamtin created a chance to beat Whistle, was saved but Mark Matheson was left with an easy option to slot the puck home for 2-1 at 32:05.
Storm clouds reappeared though and Fitzgerald was kicked out the game, 5+match for a check to the head of Goulakos.
Discipline returned to the Steelers’ rearguard as they killed a five on three penalty.
And they emerged from their defensive shell to go 3-1 up, Jamtin flashed in a rebound with 23 seconds left of the middle session.
It was an important goal from the Swedish veteran, who had scored just once in his previous 18 games.
But Giants reduced the margin when David Rutherford despatched at 45;19.
Sheffield tried to re-group and Jonas Westerling passed to Mathieu Roy, but he couldn’t squeeze it home.
Giants pulled Whistle on a Power play for six on four and Goulakos received a 5 + game for checking to Wallace’s head.
Coach Paul Thompson said: “I like the way we played, I liked our togetherness and our discipline.
“We knew we would have to come here and be patient. We had to play smart and be defensively sound and we were.”
Friday 5th January
Belfast Giants 2 Sheffield Steelers 3
Saturday 6th January
Belfast Giants v Sheffield Steelers - 7.00pm
Dundee Stars v Edinburgh Capitals - 7.00pm
Fife Flyers v Braehead Clan - 7.15pm
Guildford Flames v Cardiff Devils - 6.00pm
Milton Keynes Lightning v Coventry Blaze - 7.00pm
Nottingham Panthers v Manchester Storm - 7.00pm
Sunday 7th January
Braehead Clan v Fife Flyers - 6.00pm
Cardiff Devils v Nottingham Panthers - 6.00pm
Coventry Blaze v Milton Keynes Lightning - 5.15pm
Edinburgh Capitals v Dundee Stars - 6.00pm
Manchester Storm v Guildford Flames - 5.30pm