Belfast Giants 6 Guildford Flames 2
For the first time in this season’s Premier Sports Elite League title race, the Belfast Giants are not playing catch-up — albeit they are in a share of top spot rather than outright leaders.
First-period goals from captain David Goodwin and Lewis Hook got the ball rolling, Mark Garside — with his first of the season — and Ben Lake added in the second and Slater Doggett and Scott Conway struck in the third on their way to a comprehensive 6-2 win over the Guildford Flames at the SSE Arena that moves them level with the Sheffield Steelers at the summit.
The Steelers do have a game in hand, admittedly, and with the two sides actually tied on points, the Giants technically are second having played one more game, but to be in this position feels like a significant psychological milestone in a title race that looks set to go down to the wire given how long they have been playing catch-up this season.
Even looking short-term, this was the perfect way for the Giants to kick off a testing three-in-three weekend against the Flames, the two sides due to face-off again at the SSE Arena tonight before heading to the Spectrum tomorrow, although they will surely expect a response from the visitors after their lacklustre response in this tie.
The Giants out-shot them to the tune of 31-29, with starting netminder Kevin Lindskoug — 13 saves — replaced after Lake’s fourth just 4:52 into the second period, but replacement Liam Hughes didn’t fare much better.
At the other end, Tyler Beskorowany took a shut-out into the third period only to see it go when he conceded twice to Jake Bolton, however a 27-save effort represented an excellent night’s work between the pipes for the Giants goaltender.
Head coach Adam Keefe will be pleased with how his team spread the offence, too, three of the four lines getting in on the scoring at the SSE Arena coming off a game where their top line had to bail them out against the Manchester Storm last Sunday.
Ironically it was the top line that got them up and running, Conway putting the puck out in front for Goodwin to jam in at 7:13, but after that it was a full team offensive effort.
The third line were the next to chip in, Tyler Soy winning the battle behind the net and putting it back in front for Hook to flick it into the net at the second attempt when Lindskoug couldn’t hold the rebound at 15:59.
The offensive onslaught continued after the restart as Garside finally broke his duck for the season in the 50th game of the campaign — meaning every full-time Giants skater has scored a goal this season — when he finished shortside just 1:45 into the middle frame, and Lindskoug was then chased 4:52 in when Kevin Raine’s blue-line shot was tipped in by Lake.
His replacement Hughes — 12 saves — got them to the second intermission without any more damage on the scoreboard, but just 1:11 into the final frame the Giants added a fifth as Alex Yuill sat a double-minor for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct and Jordan Boucher set up Doggett for a tap-in on the powerplay.
The Flames finally struck when they got a powerplay of their own, Darcy Murphy off for cross-checking, and Bolton put the puck past Beskorowany with the slap-shot at 4:11.
The Guildford defenceman then doubled his tally with another strike at 14:56, but the Giants had the last laugh and moved alongside the Steelers in style as the top line rounded off the scoring, Conway tapping in with exactly four minutes left on the clock having been set up by JJ Piccinich and Goodwin.