Belfast Giants 5 - 2 Manchester Storm
By Victoria Steveley
The Belfast Giants took a 5-2 home win over the Manchester Storm when the sides met at the SSE Arena on Saturday night.
In the opening period, the Giants took the early lead with a goal from Michael Forney right on the five-minute mark.
And the home side then stormed ahead less than two minutes later when Blair Riley tipped home a big shot from defenceman Matt Nickerson to make it 2-0 to the Giants.
With less than five minutes to go before the first break, Storm netminder Mike Clemente was unlucky not to hold onto the puck when Colin Shields was there to tip home again for the Giants.
His batting home of the puck made it 3-0 to the Giants - and saw him reach the 250-goal milestone.
The Storm did manage to get on the board before the break though, when Trevor Johnson managed to score past Stephen Murphy in the Belfast side’s net.
The second period saw the Giants forge ahead again though.
Riley grabbed his second goal of the night, and the Giants’ fourth, from assists by Chris Higgins and player-coach Derrick Walser.
And there was a breakaway chance for Riley to go looking for the hat-trick, but Clemente had it covered and made the save.
The Giants took their three-goal cushion into the final 20 minutes of action and the Storm left it late, but did pull another goal back through Adam Harding with less than five minutes to go.
They then proceeded to pull their netminder in the last two minutes for the extra skater, but to no avail and the Giants grabbed an empty-netter through Shields to take the 5-2 win.
WATCH: Blair Riley on keeping up the league chase amid the playoffs push
While the Giants still sit in second place in the league following their latest win, they trail the leaders Cardiff Devils by seven points.
Saturday's goal-scorer and Man of the Match Blair Riley said the side were, however, pleased to have recovered after that disappointing weekend against the tale-toppers which dealt a blow to their own title hopes.
"I think we should be really proud of the way we responded," he said.
"It would have been easy for us to kinda fold up and pout a little bit, but I thought we did a great job of bouncing back and finding a way to get back on track right away.
"We've strung some wins together here and we're in a good position heading down the stretch."
Coach Derrick Walser said the focus for the Giants was simply finishing the regular season as strongly as possible before heading into the playoffs.
"We just want to make sure we're playing the right way," he said, adding that teams could not expect to just flip a switch for the playoffs.
"You have to get ready and you have to prepare and that's what we're doing right now."
He added that the team had been boosted by the continued support of the fans, especially at home.
"The fans have been fantastic and I appreciate them showing up - it does help," Walser said.
"The guys get excited and we've been excited to be home ...
"We're here for the next couple of weeks and hopefully we can continue with the crowds and they can help us push our way to second place - and hopefully an opportunity to catch first."
WATCH: Derrick Walser reflects on his side's latest win and looks at the task ahead
The Belfast Giants are next in action when they take on the Nottingham Panthers on Friday, with face-off at the SSE Arena at 7pm.