Belfast Giants 5 Coventry Blaze 1 (Aggregate: 7-4)
Three goals for Scott Conway, David Goodwin and J.J. Piccinich. 23 saves for netminder Tyler Beskorowany. Their sixth game in nine where they have conceded just one goal. A 5-1 win over the Coventry Blaze that led to a 7-4 win on aggregate and a place in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.
Just another night at the office for the Belfast Giants.
"Very pleased,” beamed head coach Adam Keefe. “You always do wonder with the second game of an aggregate (tie), coming in down a goal, how your team is going to respond. It’s a different situation for a lot of guys.
"Getting that first one really helped our bench, allowed us to settle in a bit. Then we started to play the way we normally play. From then on it was easy sailing.”
After Piccinich and Goodwin had put the Giants ahead not just on the night but in the tie with their 20th and 14th goals of the season respectively in what had actually been a relatively cagey first period, it was a rather straightforward night for Belfast.
When Slater Doggett tipped in Mark Cooper’s shot for his eighth of the campaign and then Conway hit 20 with a powerplay goal, it was game over, no matter how many timeouts Blaze head coach Danny Stewart would have been able to call.
Indeed, it says a lot that the Giants hit the iron twice before Lewis Hook rounded off their scoring with a shorthanded goal in the third – that’s 11 for the campaign for the GB international – to show just how dominant they were in this quarter-final.
Perhaps it said even more how when Janne Kivilahti struck late on to deny Beskorowany a sixth shut-out of the season, the Finn didn’t even celebrate, skating straight to the bench.
The visitors were ground into submission by a team that doesn’t seem to know how to lose right now. They stung C.J. Motte with 34 shots, the majority of which forced the netminder into some smart stops, and simply out-paced them on the edges.
With the semi-finals reduced to one-leg ties due to the compact schedule in the EIHL, the Giants know they have home advantage waiting for them as top seeds after the group stages. No matter who their opponents turn out to be, they’ll be confident they can get the job done.
“To be completely honest with you, the whole of December and so far in January it’s been a lot of fun standing behind the bench and watching the guys do their thing,” adds Keefe.
"It’s a pretty game to watch – maybe besides that Fife game, but we need to find ways to win those games and we did that as well. It’s a credit to those players.
"It is a fine line between letting the guys just roll and keeping guys grounded because you can get ahead of yourself very quickly, especially right now when there’s a lot of games but not a lot of practices. That’s on the coaching staff to keep a thumb on the habits.
"The way we play that makes us successful, we need to maintain that.”
It’s led from the front by that golden first line of Conway, Goodwin and Piccinich, which looks capable of producing magic every time they step on the ice. They combined for eight points in this game and 139 on the season and, even though teams know what they’re capable of, they still can’t stop them.
While the success shown by Conway and Goodwin was expected for their exploits with GB and the Giants respectively, the emergence of Piccinich has been one that few would have predicted coming into the season.
Off the back of an 11-goal season with the Orlando Solar Bears, to score 20 in 30 games could not have been predicted. While his junior numbers with the London Knights were good – 58 goals in 138 games – his best professional season up to now was a 12-goal effort for the Tulsa Oilers in 18/19.
In him, the Giants have found a gem, one which will surely have some bigger names sitting up and taking notice for the summer already. While he still has him, Keefe will hope he has some more goals up his sleeve.
“We had a few guys on our radar but the references that came in on J.J. were about his work ethic, compete level, skating. It took watching some video to see he had more to his game, and you look back to his junior days and his numbers there,” explains Keefe.
"To be honest with you, he has impressed us since he came here. I think the bigger ice suits him, but also why we chose to go with J.J. were those references.
"He is a winner, he’s won at CHL, OHL, Memorial Cup. The guy finds ways to win and if you surround yourself with winners, good things tend to happen.”
Good things are happening right now at the SSE Arena. Into the Challenge Cup last-four, where they have home advantage waiting, and nine wins in a row in all competitions with a 10-game win streak in the league to come back to on Friday night against the Cardiff Devils.
As Keefe says, it’s a lot of fun.