You know the drill by now… it’s Playoff hockey every single night until the end of the season.
However, as the Manchester Storm arrived at the SSE Arena on Sunday; last night’s defeat at the hands of the Sheffield Steelers in Yorkshire, and the Cardiff Devils’ road win in Coventry had loosened the points gap at the top of the EIHL table and added extra pressure on Belfast to stay in the hunt.
The Giants came out of the traps fast- with two solid efforts within the first 30 seconds. First, Dustin Johner snapped a ferocious shot which was taken care of by Storm goaltender Matt Ginn, and shortly after some beautiful link up play from Chris Higgins to Kyle Baun was once again denied.
A fairly soft Kendall McFaull tripping call at 4.58 send the Storm onto the power play, but the Giants penalty kill unit were quick to suffocate any danger- in fact an odd man rush with 30 seconds left almost opened their tally on the day.
The Giants applied decent pressure throughout the opening ten minutes and were rewarded at 9.51 when Blair Riley pressed down the slot, his flick at goal taking a deflection off Storm #2 Harrison Ruopp’s blade on its way through Matt Ginn’s five hole. (Assist: Raine, D Murphy) (1-0)
The remainder of the first period was all Belfast-and their consistent pressure in the Storm zone was rewarded, albeit bizarrely, with ten seconds left when David Rutherford connected with a cross-crease pass and misfired- flipping the puck up off the post and into the crease just as a sliding Harrison Ruopp once again accidentally carried the puck over the line. (Assist: Baun) (2-0)
Following a (short) review, the goal stood but Rutherford was assessed a 2+2 for accidental high sticking, meaning the Storm would begin the middle period with 3.50 left on the power play.
SOG after 1: Belfast 14-6 Manchester
Manchester opened the second by squandering a lengthy power play, the Giants kill unit continuing an impressive run of form.
Shortly after, a Darcy Murphy shot looked like it had found its way on off Ginn’s left post, but it was waved off by referee Chris Wells.
A genuinely bizarre game continued in the Giants zone, when Tyler Beskorowany trapped the puck under his left leg, but Storm forward Dane Byers celebrated the goal. Following protests from the Giants goaltender, Referee Blake Copeland sent it to another video review but could find no reasonable evidence to overturn the call on the ice. (TOG 26.20) (2-1)
Tyler Beskorowany was the difference following the midway point of the game, with a number of extremely sharp saves denying an improved Manchester rush. The Giants lacking the clinical edge which saw them overturn the league leading Cardiff Devils last weekend.
The SSE Arena did however rise to its feet to celebrate what they thought was the Giants 3rd goal, a Jordan Smotherman mid slot wrister, however it was waved off by the referees following Jonathan Boxill’s collision with Storm goaltender Matt Ginn.
SOG after 2: Belfast 31-16
Colin Shields utterly rang the post in the early stages of the final period, but despite the West end goal light coming on, and yet another video review, there was no goal.
The Giants did however get their first power play opportunity of the night, following a Luke Moffatt tripping call. The puck remained in the Storm zone for the majority, and the Giants puck cycling was decent, but they did not find a way through Ginn and Manchester’s kill unit.
David Rutherford finally extended the home side’s lead at 47.34, stripping Matt Ginn of the puck following a Jim Vandermeer shot from the right hand side of the zone. (3-1)
The cushion was short lived though, as Linden Springer beat Tyler Beskorowany at 48.54 from a soft effort the Giants goaltender would definitely want back. (Assist: Linsmayer, Erhardt) (3-2)
The crowd attempted to rally the Giants to a big finish as the game entered its final 8 minutes, sensing the urgency to seal this one up.
And they did just that on the 2 minute warning, as Dustin Johner found his way into space in the zone, delaying for half a beat before unleashing a high snipe past Ginn. (Assist: Higgins) (4-2)
Ryan Finnerty called a time out on the Manchester bench as Chris Higgins headed to the box for hooking.
The Belfast Giants absorbed the pressure of the 6 on 4 power play, and broke down the ice with 25 seconds left, Dustin Johner once again finding twine on an empty net. (Assist: Baun) (5-2)
Final SOG: Belfast 47-26 Manchester
Words: Joel Neill
Audio: Joel Neill / AVFTB
Images: William Cherry / PressEye