Belfast Giants take huge step towards Finals Weekend with Blaze mauling
Belfast Giants 5-0 Coventry Blaze
Having done them a favour last weekend, the Coventry Blaze were hoping that the Belfast Giants would do them one in return and found their hosts in no mood to do so.
A week after their win over the Cardiff Devils handed the Giants the Elite League title, there was to be no mercy shown by the Giants as a way of thanks as the newly crowned champions effectively sealed their place in Nottingham in the first leg.
They do, of course, still need to do the job in Coventry tonight in the second leg, but after the convincing nature of this victory - and the five-goal lead - it would need a large collapse in order to do so.
On the night when the Giants were officially awarded with the Elite League title, they didn't disappoint, with Darcy Murphy leading the way with two milestones on the night, firstly reaching the half-century mark of goals with the Giants' opener in the first period, the winger getting the telling tip on Kevin Raine's shot from the high point just 9:02 into the game.
And he then also marked a century of points on the season with the helper on Chris Higgins' powerplay strike in the second period for Belfast's third, Kevin Noble in the Coventry box for hooking and Murphy feeding Blair Riley at the crease who reversed the pass across for Higgins to finish into the empty cage at 10:19 of the second.
"I'm proud of the accomplishment. It's been a huge year," said Murphy after the game.
There was even a goal for Colin Shields on his final appearance at the SSE Arena, the Giants legend signing off in the perfect fashion with the hosts' fourth of the night when he stabbed in a loose puck at the crease when Blaze netminder Matt Hackett couldn't hold a Jim Vandermeer slapshot with 2:19 gone in the third period.
Tyler Beskorowany kept his seventh shutout of the season for the Giants with a 20-save game, which could be another headline on any other night, but in truth he was rarely tested as the Blaze put in a timid performance at the SSE Arena.
Indeed, their tensions spilled over after the Giants scored their fifth goal of the night when Hackett left his crease to join a melee of players, visibly shouting and provoking the Giants players and taking a penalty in the process, much to the delight of the home support.
Jordan Smotherman, meanwhile, had a contender for goal of the season when he pocketed the second of the night 3:56 into the second period, the winger carving around the outside of Chris Joyaux and drawing out Hackett with a lovely move to slide it into the empty cage.
And Jonathan Ferland ensured that the Giants will have a healthy lead heading into tomorrow's second leg when he added the fifth with 10:19 remaining, Hackett again unable to collar a shot from Curtis Leonard and the centre prodded in the rebound.
"We deserve the 5-0 lead after the way we played tonight, it was a great start," said Ferland. "The lead going into tomorrow is huge for us. We did our job at home, now we have to do the job on the road again.
"It'll be a different game tomorrow, we have to have the same focus tomorrow as we did today. We want to win that game and if we bring the same game as we did tonight then we'll be successful more often that not."
It was a night that could have been so much better for the Giants too, as hard as that is to believe, with the hosts hitting the pipes three times inside the first two periods, reflecting the dominance of Adam Keefe's men.
One more performance like that and they're off to Nottingham.
"That was the best way to sign off (in Belfast for the season), lifting the trophy in front of all these fans really means a lot to me, they've been great to me since I came here," added Murphy.
"It's been an amazing night. I'll never forget it."
Belfast Telegraph Digital