Coventry Blaze 2 Belfast Giants 2
But for Tyler Beskorowany, the Belfast Giants might be heading back to the SSE Arena on Sunday needing more than a one-goal win to reach the Elite League’s Play-Off Finals Weekend.
As it is, the netminder turned away 32 shots in their 2-2 tie with the Coventry Blaze at the SkyDome which means it is a one-game shoot-out on home ice for the Giants to keep their Grand Slam hopes alive.
Things could have easily been much worse, though. For long periods of the first leg the Giants were under the cosh, and head coach Adam Keefe’s tirade when he called a third period time-out after Janne Kivilahti’s tying goal revealed his frustration.
But goals from Darcy Murphy and Slater Doggett have them tied up heading back to the SSE Arena and on home ice, where they have lost just three times all season, they will back themselves to get the job done.
Indeed, after a disappointing regular season on the scoresheet, play-off Murphy came to play with a goal and an assist at the SkyDome, and it is that kind of depth scoring that the Giants will need to complete the clean sweep.
Things will have to be much better in game two across the board, though, as an off-night from the Giants allowed Nathanael Halbert to tie things up with 1:43 remaining to deny the visitors the win that their performance arguably didn’t deserve.
It was only down to Beskorowany, who made two massive saves early in the third when the game was still 1-0 to deny Ryan Penny and then Evan Bloodoff, that Belfast didn’t lose the game as the Blaze played like a side not restricted by their eighth-placed final standing in the league.
They swarmed the Giants in the third, Kivilahti tying the game after Murphy had put the Giants ahead just 5:50 into the first period when he picked up a rebound off Ben Lake’s drive through the middle to the net, and then Halbert tying it up 18:17 into the final frame.
Going away from home in Sunday’s decider, they will play with little pressure knowing that all the expectation is on the Giants to get the job done.
Keefe will hope on Sunday that they can channel their first period performance, which was by far their best of the three and saw them lead at the first intermission thanks to Murphy’s goal, while they also put several more quality chances on goal.
They thought they were 2-0 up midway through the second, too, when a scramble at the net in front of C.J. Motte – 23 saves – saw them celebrate, but the video review washed it out.
But in the third they were hanging on and, even though Beskorowany denied Penny and Bloodoff, the writing was on the wall and it was no surprise when a pass to the back door from Ross Venus got just enough of a redirect on it from Kivilahti to make it 1-1 at 11:50.
Keefe’s fury was evident on the bench, and even more so when he called a timeout to lay down the law to his misfiring corps, and it looked like it had worked when Doggett put them ahead again at 15:04 as he set up Murphy for the shot and, though Motte made the save, the centre picked up the rebound in the left circle and finished for 2-1.
In truth, though, they wouldn’t have deserved the win if they held on for it. As it was, they didn’t.
With just under two minutes remaining, centre Conner Chaulk drove the net and all Beskorowany could do was bat it back into the mid-slot where Halbert was steaming onto it to fire in the rebound to tie it up again at 2-2.
A 3-for-3 penalty kill will please Keefe, though, although an 0-for-2 powerplay that rarely threatened Motte will not. Then again, that is probably the least of his concerns after this display.
Honours even, they do it all again in Belfast on Sunday. On that occasion, there must be a winner.
Out of town scoreboard
Sheffield Steelers 0 Dundee Stars 1
Cardiff Devils 3 Glasgow Clan 4 (L)
Guildford Flames 4 Nottingham Panthers 4