Belfast Giants 3 Fife Flyers 0: If anyone thought that Stephen Murphy’s injury was going to have a detrimental impact on the Belfast Giants battle to retain the Elite League title they have nothing to worry about.
Debutant goaltender Garrett Zemlak — signed to replace Murphy — claimed a memorable shut-out as the Belfast Giants moved to within four points of the Nottingham Panthers at the top of the table.
The 23-year-old Canadian only linked up with his new team-mates 48 hours before the game, but last night he became an instant hero at the Odyssey, leaving it up to Colin Shields, Kevin Saurette and Darryl Lloyd to score the goals in a 3-0 triumph over the Fife Flyers.
Zemlak — who had turned out for the Flyers just last season — kept out all 19 of his former club’s shots and it was no surprise that he was also named as man-of-the-match.
And if he continues to perform in the same vein then Murphy will not be missed as much as the fans initially feared.
With this being the Giants’ game-in-hand over Nottingham and a first versus second showdown to come at the National Ice Centre on Saturday night, coach Doug Christiansen and his players knew that victory was vital in order to keep the pressure on the leaders.
And so they set about their work early, taking the play to Fife and creating chances before going into the lead with less than five minutes played.
Fife had defenceman Kyle Horne punished for a slash on Jeff Mason and the Giants took full advantage of their first powerplay of the game, with Will Colbert moving the puck to Robby Sandrock and when his shot was spilled Colin Shields was on hand to fire home at 4:47.
The Giants cranked things up in the second period, firing 18 shots on Fife goaltender Bryan Pitton — the Flyers only had 19 shots in the entire game — but they only managed to score once.
Two other powerplay opportunities had already come and gone for the Belfast hosts when they were handed a full one minute and 40 seconds of a five-on-three situation.
It only took them 31 seconds to score though, with Sandrock involved again.
He collected the puck from Will Colbert and brought a save from Pitton, but Saurette was on hand to tuck away the rebound for his
seventh goal in the last eight appearances at 33:40 to double the lead.
There was still almost half of the game to go and with the Giants in complete control of the game the home crowd were expecting to see more goals.
The landslide victory, however, didn’t come, but with Christiansen rolling his full bench his players were able to save energy for Saturday evening’s trip to Nottingham.
There was still one more goal in the Giants though. Lloyd took his tally for the season to 11 goals at 45:50 as he skated through on his own and tucked the puck past Pitton unassisted.
The Giants will move to within two points of the Panthers if they win on Saturday night and that would blow the title race wide open, with still more than two months of the season still in front of them.
And if Zemlak can repeat his heroics there is every chance of the points coming back to Belfast.