The Devils end the Giants’ Challenge Cup Dream
Approaching the second leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final, Belfast were leading by a goal after a hard fought come from behind victory in Cardiff. Things looked positive for the return match in the SSE Arena.
Fortunate news for the Giants, regarding the arriving Devils’ team, was that their top playmaker Andrew Hotman was suspended. Belfast’s Player Coach, Derrick Walser decided to play despite nagging back pains, while Jackson Whistle took to the nets. These were encouraging signs for the home fans.
However success was not to be. The Belfast Giants were given a lesson in how to win hockey games in the semi-final stage of the Challenge Cup with a 5-1 thumping and an overall score of a 9-6 aggregate loss. The Devils’ win snapped an impressive seven game winning streak from the Giants.
Chris Higgins (68)
The final outcome was almost predictable after Chris Higgins, Belfast’s leading scorer drove the Cardiff’s nets early on in the game and looked certain to open the Giants’ scoring. Yet Cardiff’s Ben Bowns made a world class save to blank his opportunity. It gave an early indication upon how things were likely to pan-out.
Ben Bowns (33) Cardiff’s Man of the Match
Recently the Giants have made a habit of coming from behind to steal games from their opponents. However Wednesday night’s game was not to be an encore.
The Devils took an early lead in this semi-final 2nd leg after Mark Richardson’s shot was deflected into the Giants’ net by Patrick Borderleau. That Borderleau goal saw the semi-final tied on aggregate and gave the Devils hope.
Adam Keefe (47) drops the gloves for his team
Belfast Captain Adam Keefe dropped the gloves with Borderleau after the Devils’ goal scorer’s hit from behind into the boards on Jonathan Boxill. He was awarded a ‘Game Misconduct’ by Referee Smith due to the nature of the hit.
With only ten seconds remaining in the opening period, Mark Louis scored unassisted to extend his side’s lead on the night and give the Devils a 6-5 advantage on aggregate.
Mark Louis grabbed his second of the game midway through the second period when he stick handled his way through the Giants’ zone neatly finishing the effort by depositing the puck into the Giants’ net.
Little over three minutes later and it was 4-0 on the night when Chris Jones hammered the puck into the roof of the Belfast net, assisted by Joey Haddad, again in the second period, to add more despair to the Giants’ faithful.
Jackson Whistle (1) leaves the ice
Belfast’s coach decided to replace Jackson Whistle in the Giants’ net by slotting Stephen Murphy into his place.
Steven Murphy (31) replaces Whistle in nets
That seemed to spark the Giants as Chris Higgins got Belfast on the score sheet late in the second period with a fine finish after receiving Derrick Walser’s pass. Higgins’ goal left the Giants trailing by two goals on aggregate.
With the Giants piling on the pressure during the final period, the Devils struck a decisive blow when Joey Martin scored on a breakaway late in the third period. Martin’s goal gave the Welsh side a three goal lead in the tie and rounded off an impressive road win for the Devils.
The Giants’ fans had had enough and started streaming out of the SSE Arena – the game was certainly not what they had been expecting. It had been obvious to see that the Devils had been pressing the Giants in their zone, not letting Belfast develop their forward motion or get momentum on the attack.
There was a way to have combated that tactic, however they stuck to their game plan despite the fact that digging the way they were could only make the hole deeper. In the end the game was effectively lost after Bown’s made that early save on Higgins – as near perfect a save as this writer has seen in a long time.
The Giants return to league action on Friday 10th February against the Dundee Stars, face-off at 7.00 PM in Belfast’s SSE Arena.
Wednesday’s final score was Belfast Giants (6) 1-5 (9) Cardiff Devils and the Giants’ Man of the Match was awarded to #68 Chris Higgins.