Giants take huge stride towards the semi-finals of Cup
Manchester 2-5 Belfast Giants
The Belfast Giants have planted one foot in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup thanks to a 5-2 victory in the first leg of their quarter-final tie against Manchester Storm.
The victory could - and indeed should - have been even more convincing.
The Giants dominated the first period and scored from two of their 16 shots in the first 20 minutes, with Brandon Benedict and Craig Peacock on the mark.
Storm had managed just one shot in return and although Luke Salazar pulled one back early in the second period, that was as good as it got for the home side.
Mitch Ganzak and Mike Radja netted second period goals for the Giants, followed by a strike from Darryl Lloyd early in the third, and although Matt Caria reduced the deficit to three goals soon after, only a major collapse from the Giants will stop them from booking a last-four date against either the Cardiff Devils or Dundee Stars.
Giants player-coach Derrick Walser handed a debut to new signing David Rutherford, with Jeff Mason and Matt Nickerson sitting out injured.
Benedict opened the scoring at 9:07 after James Desmarais and Colin Shields had created the opening.
Rutherford made his mark a minute before the end of the first period when he set up Peacock to net the second.
Storm made the most of a carry-over powerplay to get back into the game 66 seconds into the second period when Salazar beat Stephen Murphy.
The Giants restored their two-goal advantage when Desmarais again provided the assist as Ganzak moved forward from defence to score at 32:47.
Rutherford was involved again when the Giants made it 4-1 at 34:15 as Radja notched his 21st goal of the season.
The Giants kept their foot on the pedal and Lloyd struck at 42:27. Manchester gave themselves hope for Tuesday's second leg when Caria netted 36 seconds later.