The Glasgow Clan carried a full strength lineup into Belfast on Valentine’s Day, in addition to their 1-2 aggregate lead.
Once again, it’s do or die time, a semi final second leg with a place in the Challenge Cup final at stake.
The anticipation in the air, and on social media, had been palpable all day.
The defending champions, clad in Challenge Cup red, were bolstered by the return of the talismanic Patrick Dwyer- opting to scratch Jonathan Ferland ahead of faceoff.
The Giants threatened right from the drop, with Darcy Murphy breaking straight out of the circle and down the slot. A good sign.
In fact, the first five minutes were almost one way traffic for the home side- culminating in Colin Shields striking the crossbar from close range.
Vaclav Stupka sat for holding at the 8 minute mark, handing Belfast the first special teams action of the night.
They didn’t effectively set up in the zone until there were 30 seconds left on the clock, but it only takes a second to score and newest Giant Jordan Smotherman found the end of a Darcy Murphy pass to add another sensational goal to his tally- roofing the puck from a tight angle on the right hand side of the zone past Joel Rumpel. (1-0) (2-2 AGG)
Brendan Connolly resumed being Brendan Connolly moments later, tangling up with Jonathan Boxill at the Clan bench to earn his side a 2+2 for roughing and unsportsmanlike concurrently. Boxill sat 2 for roughing for the 5 on 4 power play.
David Rutherford was quick to make them pay, rifling a shot past Rumpel on the 14 minute mark to send the crowd wild and notch Belfast’s second power play goal of the night. (2-0) (3-2 AGG)
Just 19 seconds later, Jordan Smotherman struck again- soundly beating a rattled Rumpel. (3-0) (4-2 AGG)
A wild first period didn’t stop there, with a minute and change left on the clock Kyle Baun struck the Giants to a 4 goal lead. (4-0) (5-2 AGG)
The Clan responded with 50 seconds left in the period through a turnover in the Belfast zone- with Scott Pitt feeding Matt Becca who sniped Beskorowany high blocker. (4-1) (5-3 AGG)
SOG After 1: Belfast 13-9 Glasgow
The Giants opened the second pinned tight in their own zone. The Clan had emerged with slightly more jump.
However 4 minutes in, Blair Riley was to extend the lead- his beautiful snipe from the deep slot flying high blocker into the east end goal following stunning build up play from Chris Higgins. (Assist: Rutherford, Higgins) (5-1) (6-3 AGG)
With 6.15 left in the middle period the Clan struck, a beautiful zone entry setting up former Belfast Giant Craig Peacock to wrist low right on Beskorowany to reduce the aggregate deficit to 2 goals, the helper coming courtesy another former Giant- one Brendan Connolly. (5-2) (6-4 AGG)
A much tighter middle period concluded with SOG Belfast 23-15 Glasgow.
The final period got underway in the same fashion the second had ended- a much tighter contest with both sides nullifying each other in their defensive zones.
That was until Travis Erhardt had all the time in the world on the blue line, zipping a mighty slapshot from the right side past Beskorowany’s low glove, assisted by Haywood and Bjerrum at 44.25. (5-3) (6-5 AGG)
Belfast were handed a power play with 13 left in the game when Zack Sullivan obstructed Paddy Dwyer in front of goal.
Almost immediately, Josh Roach struck- wristing a shot from the right hand side of the zone past Dustin Johner on the goalie screen. (Assist: Dwyer) (6-3) (7-5 AGG)
Craig Peacock headed to the box for goaltender interference at 51.03, but the so-far excellent Giants power play unit failed to convert despite good pressure.
The minutes passed and the Clan simply could not put traffic on Tyler Beskorowany.
With 50 seconds left Patrick Dwyer was sent to the box for interference and the Giants faced closing the game out 6 on 4 with a benched Rumpel.
Tyler Beskorowany made a clutch save and cover with 22 left, as the Clan swarmed.
But the seconds ticked away and the Belfast Giants hung on to book their second successive Challenge Cup final.