A hat-trick from Joey Talbot helped secure a potentially crucial double for Sheffield Steelers against Elite League title rivals Nottingham Panthers.
Ben Simon's team kept up the pressure on leaders Belfast Giants by following up Boxing Day's 6-3 home win over the Panthers with a 5-3 win in Nottingham last night. They took the lead three times at the NIC, only to be pegged back before finally sealing the game in the closing minutes.
It took Steelers until the 16th minute to break the deadlock when defenceman Rod Sarich fired home a powerplay goal from the blue line, only for the home side to level through Billy Ryan with seven seconds left in the first period.
Talbot restored Sheffield's advantage at 23.52 from close range, before Ian McDonald fired in an equaliser six minutes later following a goalmouth scramble.
In the 35th minute, Talbot hit his second of the night, but, once again, Panthers levelled, in the final seconds of the period, as Matt Myers's pass found Ryan advancing on goal and he made no mistake.
The final session was end-to-end hockey with both sides having chances to seal the game and with overtime looming, Talbot was left free in front of the net to hit the game-winning goal at 57.47 before Jeff Legue made sure of both points with an empty-net strike.
The result, Steelers' fourth straight win, leaves them second, four points clear of Panthers, while still five shy of Belfast but with three games in hand.
A flat tyre and the resulting shortened warm-up could not deny Hull Stingrays a triumphant start to their busy festive schedule with a 7-4 victory at bottom club Newcastle Vipers.
Top goalscorer Jereme Tendler was again the man Hull had to thank as he took his tally for the season to 25 with his second
hat-trick of the campaign.
Other Stingrays goals came from player-coach Sylvain Cloutier, Jason Silverthorn (2) and defenceman Drew Bannister.
Stingrays host Newcastle tonight (7pm) before welcoming Dundee Stars to Hull Arena tomorrow (7pm).
"It was a big win for us," said Cloutier. "They came out hard, we made some mistakes and they capitalised. But then we started to get going and we did a great job in their zone.
"We finished our checks – it was a good team performance."