Instead of explaining it, let’s just take a quick look at the brass tacks of why this weekend matters:
But, as you well know, in this day and age Giants v Devils is never just about the points.
We took their Challenge Cup.
We took their League.
They took our Playoffs.
They took our Captain.
And that’s before you take into account that their General Manager’s number hangs retired on the bridge in the SSE.
Giants v Devils is as much about bragging rights as it is the Elite League table.
And with a controversial finish to a famous Belfast four point weekend when Cardiff visited this time last year- a weekend which many look back on as the turning point in the Giants Title chase- this one has been circled in every calendar on both sides of the Irish Sea.
FIRST PERIOD: Free Hugs
Liam Reddox was the sole scratch for Adam Keefe in an otherwise healthy lineup, as Shane Owen was given the nod in goal.
Cardiff meanwhile, were missing Evan Mosey, Tomas Rutkis and the talismanic Charles Linglet.
Belfast were handed their first power play opportunity less than a minute and a half in- and had very brief glances in the zone as Shaone Morrissonn sat for roughing.
The same Shaone Morrissonn was on hand to give Bobby Farnham a wee hug after the Boston Wrecking Ball™ came into contact with Ben Bowns on a wild attacking play.
The collision earned him two in the box for interference and Cardiff’s power play unit took to the ice for the first time, under a hail of boos.
Belfast’s kill unit were proficient, with a little help from a sprawling Shane Owen.
Owen was again on hand to deny a grade A wrister in the slot, as Belfast poured forward on the forecheck. Gleeson Fournier finding himself mashed up the West End plexi, but a back and forth period continued.
A painfully soft Brian Ward Tripping call at 11.47 was again snuffed out by Kevin Raine and a game Belfast kill unit.
A chippy first period exploded into life in the final minute- as the Giants unleashed a flurry of offense at Ben Bowns in the Devils goal, before ending the period on the power play as Shaone Morrissonn took a seat for hooking.
SECOND PERIOD: Give ‘Em El…gin
A Brian Ward breakaway in the opening seconds was halted by a sensational diving poke check as my coffee fueled anxiety began to take hold. As is tradition.
As the sides returned to full strength, Bobby Farnham was more than a match for Blair Riley as the pair duelled their way down the Giants zone.
Ciaran Long was ELECTRIC moments later, dangling his way from the Giants blue line into the slot, before laying one up to Elgin Pearce who was denied by Bowns.
Pearce was the difference maker on the power play at 25:41, beating Bowns from close range on the power play. Not the prettiest goal, but an absolute roof raiser. (0-1)
Not one, not two but three strong calls for roughing on Cardiff were ignored by tonight’s officials as the Devils pressed at the halfway point of the game.
Shane Owen zipped his right leg out to match a strong wrist shot, denying a 2 on 1 in sensational fashion, as Belfast continued to absorb pressure from the visitors.
Belfast’s physicality was the key to keeping the Devils at bay in the final minutes, Matt Pelech in particular delivering a couple of booming hits against the glass deep in the zone.
Play of the game so far went to the guy walking down the arena steps carrying a full tray of nachos, and a cup in his mouth during the period break. His one hand grab on a flying sandwich from the Subway sub cannon was met with the ovation it deserved. CLUTCH grab.
THIRD PERIOD: Anxiety, Anxiety…
The final period of a close game began on a knife edge, as both sides continued to trade barbs.
Curtis Leonard and Kevin Raine combined well on the Devils blue line with just over 15 left in the game, but Bowns and his glove were a match for a snappy wrist shot from Leonard.
Matt Pelech earned himself the loudest standing ovation I’ve heard all season following his one man rampage on the penalty kill. After chipping the puck out of the D zone he raced along the right wing, winning it back in the process, and rounding the back of Ben Bowns net. He then cut in across the slot past two more red jerseys before getting a shot off which Bowns swallowed with the glove.
Ryan Lowney was sent to the box for holding- which was legitimately extraordinary considering he was trailed the length of the Giants zone in a headlock.
A packed crowd made their feelings known to the refereeing crew as the Giants once again took to the kill with ten left in the game.
Back at full strength, Bobby Farnham was crushed between two red jerseys behind Ben Bowns- sending his helmet, stick and a glove flying. The noise in the arena was deafening as the referees once again failed to make a call.
In fairness, Andrew Lord was incensed on the Devils bench moments later- as Belfast escaped a blatant too many men call.
Fellas… there’s ‘letting the boys play’, and then there’s ‘just not refereeing the game’.
Ciaran Long hammered the crossbar from mid slot on a 2 on 1 breakaway with two minutes left.
Ben Bowns headed for the bench inside the last minute as both sides desperately scrambled.
Andrew Lord called a time out with 34 seconds on the clock, as the tension in the building reached status “unbearable”.
The final buzzer was a rush of elation and relief, as a single goal was the difference between the sides.
An unlikely classic.
AVFTB POST GAME INTERVIEWS:
Adam Keefe: “We knew it was going to be a playoff type game and atmosphere.”
Kevin Raine: “We were able to keep penalties down, and that’s what’s been biting us as of late.”
Lewis Hook: “It’s very humbling. I appreciate it!”
Words: Joel Neill
Audio: Joel Neill / AVFTB
Images: William Cherry / PressEye