Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Giants beat Flames to reach play-off final and keep Grand Slam dream alive

Belfast Giants 2-1 Guildford Flames

Patrick Dwyer
Patrick Dwyer
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

With their backs firmly against the wall in the Motorpoint Arena, just as they've always done this season, the Belfast Giants found a way.

Trailing the Guildford Flames 1-0 after two periods of their Play-Off semi-final in Nottingham, the Elite League champions dug deep to force their way into the final thanks to goals from Jonathan Ferland and Patrick Dwyer.

Ferland continued his new-found scoring touch in the play-offs with his third in as many games as he found the leveller with 10:30 left in the game, the veteran centre taking the feed from Chris Higgins' pass behind the net and beating Flames netminder Travis Fullerton.

And with 4:49 remaining, the Giants ensured that it would be they who would progress when Kyle Baun's shot from the high slot was deflected to the back door where Dwyer was waiting to slide in the game-winner for his 32nd of the year.

"To be honest with you, I said (between the second and third periods) do you want to play in the third-fourth placed play-off tomorrow? Because I don't!" said Keefe.

"Very similar to the Challenge Cup final, it's nerve-wracking playing against them because you feel like they can strike at any time. Credit to our guys to stick with it throughout that second period there, they got the better of us.

"That third period was gut check time for us and I'm thankful we came out and played and finally got to Fullerton."

Adam Keefe's side will now face either the Cardiff Devils, whom they diced with all season for the Elite League title, or the Nottingham Panthers in tomorrow's final, with a domestic clean sweep of all four trophies on the line.

But this was a game where the Giants had to battle for everything they got, struggling to combat the relentless speed of the Guildford forward lines in a game with very few stoppages.

Like in previous meetings with Paul Dixon's side, however, Belfast outlasted their opponents and came back strong in the third after a poor second period by their own standards, while also riding some exceptional goaltending from Tyler Beskorowany - 17 saves on 18 shots.

Indeed, arguably the player who deserved the win most was Fullerton in the Guildford net, the Canadian backstop flashing the leather on more than one occasion to quiet the Giants' forwards and finishing with 23 saves in the game.

It was they who had taken the lead too, 4:13 into the second, when some battling work down the boards from Jamie Crooks allowed him to feed Ian Watters in the mid-slot from where he was able to beat Beskorowany high blocker for his 40th of the campaign.

Guildford were having no shortage of chances either, Watters denied early in the first by Beskorowany at the back door before Brett Ferguson's shot on the rush was also stopped, while in the second period Kevin King and Evan Janssen worked a two-on-one, only for the latter to fan on the shot.

That would cost them in the third, the Flames initially surviving an onslaught from the Giants that saw Higgins somehow denied superbly by Fullerton on what looked to be a sure-fire goal, only to succumb to the two late game-changing strikes.

The only penalty of the game came late on and saw goal-scorer Ferland head off for a high sticking minor with 3:45 remaining, but the Giants' league-leading penalty kill gave a demonstration of why they hold that accolade with a masterful display.

Brett Ferguson had a chance with just 11 seconds to tie it up, the Flames winger going on the wraparound and trying to force it under Beskorowany only to see the netminder hold firm under pressure from the melee of players in the crease.

Now just one game to go.

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