The Giants had entered the Christmas break sitting pretty at the top of the Elite Ice Hockey League.
But tonight, as the Teal Army re-emerged from a turkey-haze and filed into the SSE Arena, they found themselves leapfrogged by the Cardiff Devils; who had been chipping away at their games in hand and finally drew level on games played with one extra point.
Tonight’s encounter with the bottom placed Milton Keynes Lightning was the first game of a three in three for the Belfast Giants.
The Milton Keynes Lightning were at the back end of a stretch of their own- having lost twice in consecutive games to the Guildford Flames on Wednesday and Thursday before making the trip to Belfast.
Perhaps understandably then, as the puck dropped on the second half of the season, the Lightning looked tired.
The Lightning- having started backup goaltender Adam Goss- were immediately on the back foot.
The Giants- themselves without Hunter Bishop, Colin Shields, Guillaume Gelinas and still awaiting the debut of the returning Chris Higgins- broke the deadlock after just 3.56 courtesy of Lewis Hook from close range. Assists: Dwyer & Baun (1-0)
Tyler Beskorowany found himself with little to do as the Giants continued to apply pressure to the Lightning zone- eventually finding their second at 15.40 after two fruitless powerplays, as Blair Riley connected with a sublime Patrick Dwyer pass. (2-0)
The shot clock at the end of the first period read 16-4 in the home side’s favour. At this point, the Giants were cruising.
The second period was to begin much the same. Blair Riley found a wayward pass in the neutral zone and broke away down the slot to finish a nice unassisted deke past Adam Goss. (3-0)
Dustin Johner would sit for hooking at 28.54 as the Giants Penalty Kill unit successfully saw their first action of the night.
Darcy Murphy then found twine for the Giants 4th of the night at 32.56, assisted by Blair Riley and Kevin Raine. (4-0)
At the end of the 2nd Period, the Giants were outshooting the Lightning 36-11.
The Belfast Giants looked razor sharp on an early third period Power Play, as Armstrong took another 2 for interference. Somehow, an embattled MK defence and Adam Goss managed to keep out the Giants 5th of the night.
Despite the occasional breakaway, it remained one way traffic. Credit, however, to Tyler Beskorowany who was tested between long spells of inactivity and looked as sharp as ever.
However, the Milton Keynes Lightning finally broke the goose egg at 45.47 courtesy of Cole Shudra who uncharacteristically found Beskorowany’s five hole, with assists from Golovkovs and Ferguson. (4-1)
David Rutherford would make himself at home in the penalty box for back to back 2 minutes calls (hooking and tripping)
It was then the turn of YOUR [unofficial] Player of the Month Blair Riley to complete his hat trick in style, shorthanded and unassisted at the 55 minute mark. (5-1)
The Belfast Giants would finish the third period on the Power Play, as Andreas Valdix sat for Slashing. However 58 shots to the Lightning’s 19 were enough, as the Giants ran out comfortably victorious.
One down… two to go.
Words: Joel Neill
Audio: Joel Neill / AVFTB
Images: William Cherry / PressEye