After all the drama and celebrations of another momentous weekend in Cardiff- where the Belfast Giants became back to back Challenge Cup Champions following a Jordan Smotherman winner in OT against the Guildford Flames- it was back to business for Adam Keefe’s side.
The Playoff-hopeful Coventry Blaze rolled into town for a Friday/Saturday double which bore huge importance for both sides.
The Giants would unfortunately have to take to the ice on Friday night without Tyler Beskorowany, missing through injury in addition to David Rutherford. Coventry meanwhile were without Oliver Lord, Jake Hansen, Justin Hache and Matt Maurice.
Before the action could get underway, the arena rose to its feet and roared for an impeccable highlight package from Giants TV, re-living last week’s win. Captain Blair Riley then skated the trophy to thunderous applause.
Belfast were to get off to a rocky start, taking quick successive penalties in the third minute of the game to hand the Blaze a 5 on 3 power play (Ferland tripping 2.04, Murphy holding 2.14).
Coventry struggled to establish themselves in the Giants zone, and when they did, Stephen Murphy was a match for the danger as time expired for a huge kill early on.
Tim Crowder sat for hooking at 5.44 and the Giants power play unit soon had their own chance to make a mark on the game. Some sharp set up play from Jordan Smotherman led to a shot ringing the crossbar as time expired, but still the sides carried on scoreless.
The Giants looked sharp at the midway point of the period, peppering netminder Matt Hackett with a number of strong chances. This continued into a too many men penalty, served once again by Tim Crowder, but the Giants still could not convert.
The penalty yoyo-ing continued as Colin Sheilds sat for tripping at 13.01. However, seconds later Blair Riley forced a turnover on his own blueline, skating the gut and calmly beating Hackett 5-hole for a short handed lead. (1-0)
The Giants almost doubled that lead following the drop, as Coventry were pinned deep, struggling to reorganise themselves for any kind of meaningful assault.
Curtis Leonard was next to the box, taking a holding penalty at 17.23, but the Giants held on to round off a wild first period- which was called with 27 seconds left due to an issue with the plexi in the west.
SOG after 1: Belfast 14-6 Coventry
The Giants struck again immediately after the second (plus 27 seconds) got underway, courtesy of points machine Darcy Murphy, registering his 45th goal on the season. (2-0)
Coventry struck back at 26.53 with a Tim Crowder backhand effort from Stephen Murphy’s right post which he’ll definitely want back- the puck creeping slowly under his right leg and into the net. (Assist: Pauly) (2-1)
Perennial thorn-in-side Kevin Noble took a seat for a cross check at 30.59, but despite a solid cycle the Giants could not convert.
A goal mouth scramble in front of Stephen Murphy and a few exchanges after the fact sent Kendall McFaull to the box for roughing with 6.29 left in the period- but the Giants kill unit held strong, and the middle period ended at 2-1.
SOG after 2: Belfast 26-15 Coventry
The Giants rang the upright for the second time around 7 minutes into a scrappy third- in fact it was hard to escape the feeling that their lead should be significantly more on the night.
The minutes continued to tick in a final period which won’t exactly go down as a classic- both sides unable to shift the score.
Belfast endured a Coventry power play (Smotherman, tripping) as the game crept towards its final 5 minutes.
Adam Keefe called a time out with 4.10 left in the game, hoping to put this one out of reach.
Matt Hackett headed for the bench with 1.25 left and Coventry iced the extra skater, coming close almost immediately in front of a sprawling Stephen Murphy.
The puck kissed the right hand post of an empty net moments later, sending a gasp throughout the arena.
With 1 minute left, Coventry Blaze called a time out.
But they could not hold the puck in the Giants zone after the drop, and a confident Jordan Smotherman skated the neutral zone, saucing the puck into an empty net. (3-1)
Coventry pulled Hackett again as play resumed, but this time Kyle Baun was Johnny-on-the-spot, pouncing on a loose puck in the neutral zone and firing home as time expired. (4-1)
Final SOG: Belfast 38-23 Coventry
Words: Joel Neill
Audio: Joel Neill / AVFTB
Images: William Cherry / PressEye