The SSE Arena was virtually full to capacity as the puck dropped on round 2 of a high stakes weekend between the Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils.
Despite a few (thousand) hangovers; Friday night’s incredible air of excitement, tension and emotion was virtually unchanged- the entire building fully aware of the importance of the game about to unfold.
Belfast were once again without Patrick Dwyer, who took to the bench to coach alongside Adam Keefe and Rob Stewart. Cardiff had scratched Piggot, Rutkis and Haddad.
As the teams took to their blue lines the entire arena- including the travelling Cardiff Devils fans- rose to their feet and applauded one Jonathan Ferland, tonight playing his 1000th professional game; a brief moment of unity quickly extinguished as action got underway.
A cagey start to the game saw Charles Linglet head to the penalty box twice in quick succession, first to serve a bench minor for too many men (3.25) and then a kneeing call (5.51), however Belfast’s power play unit couldn’t find a way through traffic.
The physicality of the game noticeably increased as the period passed the ten minute mark, both sides committing to checks and finishing hits on the boards.
Josh Roach sat for a tripping call in the Giants D zone at 17.09, but the Giants commitment to their fore check and their high pressure persisted even while on the kill.
Darcy Murphy almost created another moment of brilliance, entering the Devils zone and cutting back, opening a mass of daylight between him and the goal. However, a slight mishandle took care of the danger.
Tensions spilled over as the buzzer sounded for the end of the period, as both sides came together behind the east end goal for some pushing and shoving.
SOG after 1: Belfast 12-8 Cardiff
The handbags after the buzzer earned Mike Hedden 2+2 in the box as the middle period got underway- sitting for roughing along with Blair Riley (2 roughing) to send the Giants onto the power play.
The sides returned to even strength, but not for long as Chris Higgins took 2 minutes for hooking at 22.20- the Giants kill unit once again doing a great job of fore checking high and keeping the zone clear- often crossing the blue line in possession instead of a long puck dump.
Belfast continued to look threatening, but the remainder of the period was a war of attrition- each side doing their best to battle and wear down the other.
However neither could break the deadlock and once again the stage was set for a nerve wracking final 20.
SOG after 2: Belfast 25-16 Cardiff
A first-to-flinch final period utterly erupted 7 minutes in as Belfast unleashed a flurry of shots on Ben Bowns, culminating in an almighty Blair Riley slap shot which zipped past the Cardiff net minder and lifted the roof off a packed SSE. (Assist: Higgins, Baun) (1-0)
Belfast’s earlier defensive composure was lacking as the Devils hunted for a reply. Devils talisman Joey Martin found the net just a few minutes later, working his way inside and beating Beskorowany from close range with assists from Morissette and Batch at 50.56 (1-1)
Belfast came desperately close to notching a second as the game ticked towards its final five minutes- the puck bouncing off the inside of Ben Bowns’ right post and out into the crease as the arena’s collective heart momentarily stopped.
An absolutely wild, almost unbearable final two minutes expired and both sides faced 3 on 3 sudden death OT with a point banked.
David Rutherford’s helmet was stripped in what looked like an interference call in the Devils zone, but the referee’s arm remained down.
Tyler Beskorowany utterly denied Cardiff the win moments later in a sensational sprawling double save.
The SSE Arena was utterly convinced of a goal, but Tom Darnell behind Ben Bowns waved it off. Deafening boos rang out around the arena.
At the next whistle he called for a video review.
What followed was the most agonisingly long goal review in British Ice Hockey history. After what seemed like an eternity, Darnell signalled a good goal and one of the more unusual finishes to a game was met with a deafening roar.