In front of a blockbuster crowd, the Japanese winger struck with 4:43 remaining to send the home fans happy, with Quinn Preston, Mark Cooper and Ara Nazarian also on the scoresheet in a thrilling encounter to start the weekend.
Tyler Beskorowany - 20 saves - was called into action very early as Westin Michaud unleashed a shot from the left circle that he gloved down assuredly, with Jake Ryczek almost feeding Oliver Betteridge crashing the net but it too was denied by the goaltender.
But it would be the Giants who would take the lead at 4:25 as a turnover at the blue-line allowed Preston to snap home a shot from the left circle for the opening goal (1-0), and the lead could have been doubled shortly after when Cooper blocked a shot and skated in on Rok Stojanovic but he made the stop.
The visitors continued to have chances as Michaud found Mathieu Lemay steaming into the zone but Beskorowany saved his low shot, while at the other end Stojanovic made an excellent double save to deny Bobby MacIntyre, who took a cross-checking call in the aftermath that was shut down by the home side.
But a second penalty in quick succession, this one against Preston for holding, would be punished as Lemay found the top corner from the right circle at 15:45 (1-1), with the Giants unable to retake the lead on a late powerplay as Jordan Kelsall was called for cross-checking, with Stojanovic making a big save to deny MacIntyre’s rebound effort.
Having failed to score on the powerplay late in the first period, the Giants would take the lead on the man advantage at 26:57, a too many men call costing the Panthers as Matt McLeod sent the puck to the slot for Cooper to finish five-hole on Stojanovic for the go-ahead goal. (2-1)
An interference penalty against Sato left Belfast shorthanded but they managed to kill off the penalty and Nazarian rewarded them with their second powerplay goal as Betteridge was penalised for slashing and, after Stojanovic had made two big saves to deny Preston, there was the winger to sweep home the rebound at 32:16. (3-1)
However, Jonathan Paredes used his timeout to perfection, calling it after the third goal went in and it sparked a Panthers comeback before the second intermission, Betteridge going top shelf to pull one back at 37:26 (3-2) before penalties against Davy Phillips (elbowing) and Preston (tripping) allowed Michaud to tie it up at 39:50 on the 5-on-3 powerplay. (3-3)
The Giants needed to kill off another 5-on-3 after an abuse of official penalty at the second intermission, but they did so and they nearly took the lead straight after they returned to full strength when new signing Henrik Eriksson skated in on goal but hit the base of the post with his low effort, followed by Stojanovic denying Sato on a one-on-one break.
But at the other end Beskorowany was doing the business, too, getting the slightest of touches on Hugo Roy’s effort before producing a big pad stop to keep Carl Neill off the scoresheet, which allowed Sato to grab the late winner.
Jacob Friend’s hard work along the boards presented the opportunity, the defenceman feeding the puck to his winger and Sato was able to cut inside and across the face of goal before finishing past the stranded Stojanovic for the game-winning goal at 55:17 (4-3), with the Panthers unable to find a late equaliser despite pulling their netminder for the extra skater.
The Stena Line Belfast Giants are preparing for back-to-back road games against the Coventry Blaze, heading to the SkyDome on Saturday 9 December for an Elite League clash before returning to the same venue for the first leg of their Challenge Cup quarter-final on Wednesday 13 December. The next game at home will be the first of a double header weekend vs Manchester Storm on 15 December. Tickets are available here.