Belfast Giants turn up the heat on Blaze
Belfast Giants 2 Cardiff Devils 0
It was a must win game for the Belfast Giants and at the end their dreams of clinching the Elite League title were still alive.
Almost 5,500 turned up at the Odyssey Arena last night and they were treated to one of the best games of hockey seen this season as Steve Thornton’s side shut-out the Cardiff Devils 2-0.
There have been many games with more goals, but few as intense as this clash of two sides that went at each other from the first whistle.
“A lot of credit has to be given to the referee Moray Hanson who let both teams play hockey and that’s the type of game fans will want to see because it’s certainly the kind of games we want to play in,” said coach Thornton.
“That’s why he’s one of the top officials and it was a great atmosphere and it was two good teams going at it.”
Two goals from Jeffrey Szwez closed the gap at the top of the table to a single point behind the Coventry Blaze although Thornton’s side have played two games more.
Tonight they’ll scoreboard watch hoping the Blaze slip up at the third place Nottingham Panthers, but knowing if they do then the race for the championship will be a three-horse race again.
“We’ll be cheering on Nottingham,” said Thornton.
“We’ll worry about who finishes second and third later on because we want to take care of our business and force this title race down to the very last game against Coventry.
“If they win it will be pretty bleak. There’s the old cliché about not worrying about what you can’t control, but I’ll want to know the score in Nottingham, that’s for sure.”
Last night the Giants took the early lead on the powerplay at 4:35 when Szwez skated into the slot and let go a shot that was de
flected off a Cardiff stick, totally deceiving goaltender Stevie Lyle.
Other than that little slice of luck these were two evenly matched teams, both playing three-line hockey throughout in a hugely enjoyable physical contest and with twenty minutes to play it was still a one-goal game.
The home team wasted a four-minute powerplay at the start of the final period and as the minutes ticked down so the tension seemed to get to the players, especially the Giants, as passes failed to stick and the fear of making a mistake seemed to take over.
With just over four and a half minutes to go, George Awada was called for interference and on the resulting Devils powerplay Max Birbraer hit the post with the net gaping.
It was another piece of good fortune, but none was needed on the classy goal that sealed the win with 1:07 remaining.
Pat Bateman forced a turnover at centre ice and then took his time before he provided the perfect pass for Szwez to rifle past Lyle with the one timer.
Giants goaltender Stephen Murphy made 26 saves for his seventh shut-out of the season and when the Giants return to action at home against the Edinburgh Capitals tomorrow (face-off 5pm) they’ll hope to have the opportunity to finish the penultimate weekend of the regular season on top of the table.