Belfast Giants set up Continental Cup decider with battling win over Katowice
Belfast Giants 4-2 GKS Katowice
The Belfast Giants will play a winner-takes-all game against Arlan Kokshetau tomorrow for the Continental Cup after they won 4-2 against Polish side GKS Katowice at the SSE Arena.
In a fiery game in Belfast, Curtis Leonard's game-winner at the start of the third period ensured the Giants will have one game to win their first trophy of the season against the Kazakhs, favourites for the title.
But in order to set up that shootout, they had to battle past a rugged Katowice side, who gave no quarter and used their speed to great effect on the break, however Belfast did enough to get past them.
The hosts were lucky not to be behind early and they had a world-class stop from Tyler Beskorowany to thank for not conceding the first goal, the netminder going post-to-post to somehow save a shot from Dusan Devecka that seemed certain to find the twine.
The Giants were visibly buoyed by that stop and they fed off the momentum, Kyle Baun twice going close as he was denied by Kevin Lindskoug on a breakaway and then rang the iron from the slot.
But with all the pressure, it was only a matter of time before Belfast pulled ahead and they did so at 17:07, Darcy Murphy turning and shooting through traffic and it bobbled over Lindskoug's pads off a stick.
It could have been even better just before the intermission, however David Rutherford saw his effort kick saved away by Lindskoug after Murphy's excellent centring pass.
And Katowice made them pay 14 seconds into the second period, the visitors starting strongly and when Mikolaj Lopuski fired the puck to the crease, Bartosz Fraszko was there to redirect it in through Beskorowany's five-hole.
But the game was still being dictated by the hosts and they went back in front at 31:15 when Blair Riley battled for the puck in the right circle, fed Kendall McFaull and his slapshot was turned home by Murphy when it rebounded off the backboards.
Yet it would be tied up heading into the third as the Poles levelled it again at 39:51, forward Janne Laakkonen taking it to the net and dragging it around Beskorowany, lifting it over the diving netminder for the second.
The tie lasted 15 seconds of the third period and, just like Katowice did to them in the second, the Giants struck a hammer blow to begin the final 20, Curtis Leonard skating onto the puck in the slot and firing sweetly over Lindskoug's glove side.
Dustin Johner nearly doubled the lead on the powerplay soon after, the centre found in the slot on the powerplay, however his shot was straight at Lindskoug when he should have tested the netminder better.
Meanwhile, Katowice weren't out of it, and Beskorowany had to be alert to get down low and block away a Marek Strzyzowski rebound out in front as the visitors began to get the better of play.
Things got heated as the game wound down when Katowice d-man Jakub Wanacki took a penalty for accidental high sticking, prompting an incensed reaction from head coach Tom Coolen, and Riley nearly clinched the win when he was set up out in front but found the glove of Lindskoug.
But it wasn't to matter, Martin Cakajik's late tripping call giving the Giants a 5-on-3 opportunity and they made it count at 58:52 when Dustin Johner tipped in Josh Roach's pass, setting up Sunday's winner-takes-all tie with Arlan Kokshetau.
Man of the Match: #10 Curtis Leonard
Belfast Telegraph Digital