The Belfast Giants hauled themselves back into the final of the Challenge Cup last night, recovering from a 4-0 deficit against the Manchester Phoenix with three unanswered goals of their own to set up what should be a thrilling second leg at the Dundonald Ice Bowl on St Patrick’s Day.
After beating the Cardiff Devils 4-1 on Saturday night to win their Knockout Cup semi-final 7-4 on aggregate to set up a decider, once again against the Phoenix, it looked like former Giants coach Tony Hand and his side were going to deal Steve Thornton’s men a critical blow when they skated into a 4-0 lead with half the game gone.
Luke Fulghum opened the scoring at 6:51 on the powerplay with Davy Phillips in the penalty box and three goals in a little over seven second period minutes looked to have established an unassailable lead. Bruce Mulherin, Brett Clouthier and David Beauregard were the scores with Hand assisting on three of the Phoenix goals.
The Giants comeback started at 32:35 when captain George Awada scored but they still trailed by three goals going into the final twenty minutes.
As the Phoenix sat back however the Giants came on strong with Andrew Martin netting at 45:32 and then Evan Cheverie at 54:16.
They couldn’t quite get the equaliser but Thornton was happy to have gotten out of the game with the trophy still very much in their grasp.
“The way we played in the second period, had they got another it would have been pretty difficult but never bet against us,” said Thornton afterwards.
“They were playing pretty solid and we were making some very bad mistakes, more mental than anything else.
“It was hard because we had a real high on Saturday in Cardiff, reaching another final after a tough couple of games and you feel like you should celebrate but we couldn’t.
“So I was worried, but I asked the guys to respond and they did in the third period and now we go home and I’m confident we can turn this around and win some silverware.”
On Saturday night the Giants went to Cardiff tied 3-3 after the first leg of the Knockout Cup semi-final and went behind early on with only 1.33 on the clock when Mike Pripch scored on the powerplay.
A double from Colin Shields at 6.28 on the powerplay and 7.50 turned the game around and a third goal on the night at 11.08 from the stick of Mike Burgoyne gave the Giants a 3-1 lead at the end of the opening period.
The scoreline remained the same going into the third period with Paul Deniset finding the empty net at 59.53.
The dates for the Knockout Cup final will be released later this week.