Belfast Giants win Challenge Cup with convincing victory over Cardiff Devils
Cardiff Devils 3-6 Belfast Giants
The Belfast Giants’ four year wait for silverware ended as they won the 2018 Challenge Cup with a 6-3 win over the Cardiff Devils at Ice Arena Wales.
Two spirited periods to finish the game saw the Giants come out on top in a heated and hard fought clash between the two teams and pick up the Challenge Cup trophy which they last won in 2009.
Starting in nets for the Belfast Giants was usual backstop Jackson Whistle, while for the Cardiff Devils it was Great Britain netminder Ben Bowns between the pipes.
It was the former who was beaten early as Cardiff grabbed the early lead in the final, the puck centred into the slot and forward Layne Ulmer was free to take it around Whistle on the back hand and finish.
In the early stages the chances all belonged to the Devils, and Ulmer could have doubled both his side’s and his personal tally soon after when he and Tyson Strachan went on a two-on-one only to whiff on the shot.
That seemed to spark the Giants into action, but Bowns was on top form as he denied Brendan Connolly’s initial shot and then showed great reactions to slide across his crease to deny Sylvestre on the rebound.
Connolly was then called into defensive action twice, tracking back to stop another two-on-one chance for Cardiff before producing a stunning block at the back door when the Devils threatened again.
Four minutes into the second period Belfast levelled, Brandon Benedict taking the puck from his own defensive zone and, after crossing the blue line, his hopeful wrister deceived Bowns and found the twine at 24:08.
The tie lasted less than a minute, Cardiff flexing their powerplay muscles at 25:03 as they won the draw and Gleason Fournier took the puck in the high slot, his shot through traffic going all the way through and in.
Whistle had to be alert to thrust out a pad to deny Joey Martin as he tried to go around the netminder, and the British goaltender then made an instinctive stop when Sean Bentivoglio got a tip in front.
With their netminder backing them up, Belfast went to work and got their second equaliser at 29:57, Matt Towe doing well to win the puck battle along the boards and he fed it to Steve Saviano, who drew Bowns and passed across the crease to John Kurtz to finish at the back door.
And they went ahead at 35:34 with a brilliant finish from Jonathan Ferland, the forward finding the puck way out wide on the left wing and his precise shot from the edge of the left circle somehow found the top corner.
The period ended on a sour note as both teams clashed on their way to their locker rooms, reflecting the tension of a hard fought championship game, with Ryan Martinelli and Bentivoglio the offenders.
If anything that spurred the Giants on at the start of the third and after Bowns made two great stops to keep out Connolly and Darcy Murphy, the boys in teal found the two goal cushion.
It came at 44:32 as Steve Saviano received the puck at the high point, and his driven pass to the back door was tipped in by Matt Towe, who was lurking by the post to put it into the roof of the net.
The lead could have been three only minutes later as the puck was dumped over the top to Connolly, who was holding back in the neutral zone, only for Bowns to save five hole as the forward shot on his backhand.
For the remainder of the game, however, Cardiff were on top as they went in search of the two goals to at least take the game to overtime, and it was Ulmer who again went closest when he tipped an Andrew Hotham pass straight at Whistle.
But the game looked to be killed off at 52:04 as Belfast found their fifth, Darcy Murphy getting the puck at the right circle and as he advanced on Bowns, he ripped a vicious wrister low to the netminder’s right side and into the twine.
That didn’t stop the Devils making it interesting as they got their second powerplay goal of the game to reduce the gap to two again, Jake Morissette firing home at the doorstep at 55:16 after a rebound dropped straight at his feet.
The hosts had several more chances to pull another goal back, one of which resulted in Whistle ending up in the net without his helmet, but the match was put to bed at 56:40 when Ferland slotted in his second to an empty net.
The deflated Devils couldn’t muster anything more in response, and at the final buzzer there were scenes of jubilation on the Giants bench as the visitors celebrated a well deserved win.
Man of the Match: Matt Towe (Belfast Giants)
Belfast Telegraph Digital