Belfast Giants triumph in Coventry Blaze battle
Belfast Giants 7 - 4 Coventry Blaze
Four third period goals saw the Belfast Giants fight back from being behind twice at home to the Coventry Blaze to triumph 7-4 at the SSE Arena in the Elite League.
Trailing by a goal at the second intermission, Belfast burst out offensively at the start of the final 20 to take the first of their doubleheader with the Blaze in Belfast and close the gap to the league-leading Cardiff Devils.
Captain Blair Riley did not dress having picked up an injury in midweek for the Giants, who started Jackson Whistle in goal, while Coventry turned to everyday starter Kevin Nastiuk as backstop.
Although it was the Blaze who had the better of the opening exchanges, Belfast took the lead at 5:44, Sébastien Sylvestre backhanding a pass to the onrushing Jim Vandermeer, who laced a snapshot low past Nastiuk from the left circle.
At 7:30, Coventry responded on the powerplay after Jonathan Ferland took two for hooking, forward Adam Courchaine launching a slapshot from the blueline that Danick Paquette tipped in at the crease.
Both netminders then pulled out excellent stops to keep the game tied, Nastiuk blanking Steve Saviano as he went through one on one, then Whistle producing the glove stop to deny Gaelan Patterson from the left circle.
But the best save of the first period fell to Nastiuk, who went post to post to deny Darcy Murphy at the doorstep having been set up by David Rutherford behind the net.
That allowed the Blaze to come out energised at the start of the second period and, although Marc-Olivier Vallerand struck the bar early, they scored twice in quick succession to hit the front.
First was Paquette’s second at 28:00 with the 5-on-3 advantage, captain Jordan Pietrus with the initial shot that clanged off the post and the sniping forward was lurking at the doorstep to tap in at the doorstep.
21 seconds later and Coventry went two ahead, still on the powerplay, Brett Robinson thrashing a vicious slapshot into the top corner from the high point.
The goals kept coming, although this time at the other end as Belfast hit back on the powerplay at 29:19, Saviano with a shot from the right faceoff spot that Colin Shields got the tip on and Nastiuk couldn’t hold it to keep it out.
The leveller quickly followed at 32:45, new Blaze signing Alex Miner Barron misplaying the puck at the blueline allowing Saviano to steal in, and he and Murphy played a perfect one-two that ended with the latter slamming home past the unfortunate Nastiuk.
But the tie lasted less than a minute, Coventry immediately regaining the lead through Pietrus, who finished on the backhand at 33:12 following Robinson’s excellent pass that set him in on Whistle.
And they should have had their two goal lead restored mere seconds before the end of the period as Vallerand was faced with an open net, but his thunderous drive cracked off the pipes and away.
That came back to haunt the visitors as Belfast tied it up again at 44:24, Sylvestre taking it in on goal and, though the puck was deflected away initially at the crease, the forward regained control and slid it into the empty cage.
And the hosts then took the lead at 47:30 through an unlikely source - converted defenceman Brandon Benedict taking the puck in the high slot, and his wrister through traffic deceived Nastiuk and found the twine.
With their heads up and all the momentum, the Giants found a sixth at 47:46, Brendan Connolly firing a precise roofed shot from the angle that Nastiuk couldn’t get a pad on.
The Blaze sought for a way back into the game, but instead Belfast added a seventh at 51:41, Nastiuk taking too much time on the puck behind the net which allowed Jonathan Ferland to put the puck back in the slot for John Kurtz to finish low.
That allowed the Giants a comfortable cushion that allowed them to see out the game in relative ease, with the chance to take both wins in tomorrow night’s rematch.
Belfast Telegraph Digital