Giants triumph to blaze into title race
Belfast Giants 4 - Coventry Blaze 1
Two David Rutherford goals helped the Belfast Giants to a 4-1 win over Coventry Blaze at the SSE Arena to really shake up the Elite League title race.
The win keeps the pressure on the Cardiff Devils at the top of the table, with the gap now down to just four points with both teams having played 29 games.
It wasn't as comfortable as the 4-1 scoreline might suggest though, with all the scoring action coming in the final 24 minutes of the game.
The Giants had to fight back after going a goal down late in the second period and after Rutherford had bagged his brace it wasn't until two empty-net goals - the first from Jeff Mason and second from Chris Higgins - that the points were secured.
The crowd had been on their feet as early as the fourth minute though, when Giants' Jim Vandermeer and Coventry rival Garrett Klotz traded blows after the Belfast man had taken exception to a slashing offence. That earned both a five minute stay in the penalty box.
Both goaltenders, Stephen Murphy of the Giants and Blaze's Brian Stewart, had been equal to everything that was thrown at them. Stewart in particular had to be on top form with the Giants registering two shots for every one of Coventry's throughout the first two periods.
Brandon Benedict, Alex Foster and Adam Keefe had all come close to putting the Giants into the lead, but found Stewart in impressive form.
Coventry only had two powerplay opportunities during the entire game and it was on the first, 16 minutes into the second period, that they broke the deadlock.
Matt Nickerson was punished for a boarding offence at 16:02 and 42 seconds later Blaze made their numerical advantage count when Ashley Tait pounced on a rebound after Murphy had stopped a Ross Venus shot.
The Giants responded quickly and they were level just 40 seconds later.
Adam Keefe supplied Rutherford with the pass closer to the boards and he jinked inside before unleashing his shot past Stewart at 37:24.
There was just nine minutes between Rutherford's goals as he notched his second of the match at 46:19.
Klotz's game was brought to a premature end following a fight with Keefe.
Even after Mason had scored the first empty-net goal at 58:51 Blaze stuck with the extra skater, but the Giants struck again at 19:32 through Higgins to complete the win.