Elite League: Belfast Giants 7-3 Nottingham Panthers

Blair Riley fires into the Panthers net in Belfast's comfortable victory on Friday night
Blair Riley fires into the Panthers net in Belfast's league victory on Friday night

Belfast Giants moved to within five points of Elite League leaders Cardiff Devils with this comfortable win over the Panthers at the SSE Arena.

James Desmarais, Michael Quesnele and Colin Shields netted to give the hosts a 3-0 lead after the first period.

Chris Lawrence pulled one back before Giants goals from David Rutherford, Shields and Blair Riley.

Shields completed his hat-trick early in the third period before Lawrence and Dan Spang scored consolation goals.

Needing a win to keep their title hopes alive, the Giants set about Nottingham from the start of a free-flowing first period.

Desmarais sets Belfast on their way

They made the breakthrough with a lovely goal from Desmarais. Taking the puck wide right on the wing, he fired a rocket of a shot into the net past Miika Wiikman in the Panthers' goal in the 11th minute.

And it was soon 2-0 as Desmarais turned provider, feeding Quesnele to score.

The visitors were then reeling at 3-0 down as Ryan Martinelli passed to Shields, who deflected the puck in from close range.

The Giants received a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of a breathless first period which they had dominated in impressive fashion.

Giants captain Adam Keefe keeps his eye on the puck as Mike Quesnele's shot hits the Panthers net
Giants captain Adam Keefe keeps his eye on the puck as Mike Quesnele's makes it 2-0 to the hosts

The second period saw two goals in a minute as Lawrence got Nottingham on the scoreboard.

Jim Vandermeer was caught in possession during a Giants' power-play and the Panthers player broke clear to score.

But, within 40 seconds, it was 4-1 as Rutherford restored the Giants' three-goal advantage.

Shields then got his second of the night, bundling the puck in on a power-play past an unprotected Wiikman.

The overworked Panthers keeper then saved a Blair Riley shot at close range but the Giants' leading goalscorer followed up to put in the rebound as the home side racked up a half-dozen goals before the halfway point in the contest had been reached.

Giants forward Blair Riley celebrates scoring against Nottingham at the SSE Arena
Giants forward Blair Riley celebrates scoring against Nottingham at the SSE Arena

The Giants went 7-1 up in the final period as Shields secured his treble before the Panthers notched up a second goal through Lawrence and added another with 20 seconds remaining as Spang scored.

The sides meet again at the same venue on Sunday afternoon.

Belfast have played one game more than Cardiff and remain reliant on the Welsh team dropping points with just five more games left in their regular season campaign.

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