Belfast Giants win first game of doubleheader with Cardiff Devils at SSE Arena
Belfast Giants 4
Cardiff Devils 3
Penalty shots were needed to separate the Elite League’s top two sides as the Belfast Giants won the first game of their doubleheader with the Cardiff Devils 4-3 at the SSE Arena.
Darcy Murphy’s penalty shot was the clinching score in the tense tie, winning the game after controversy in overtime when Spiro Goulakos had what seemed to be a perfectly good goal chalked off for the hosts.
Cardiff twice came back from behind in the third period, and take a point from the tie, but will get the chance to take revenge in Saturday’s rematch in Belfast.
Belfast started Jackson Whistle in goal, while the Devils had Ben Bowns in between the pipes in an international match-up at the back.
It took the visitors all of 3:54 to take a deserved lead on the powerplay, Blair Riley in the box for Belfast and some good passing in front of the net saw captain Jake Morrisette flash a one-timer past Whistle.
Cardiff should have extended their lead as they continued to put prolonged pressure on the Giants goal, however their excellent build-up play was hampered by both Whistle and a lack of finishing, with Matt Pope guilty of fanning on a free shot at the backdoor.
Seconds later and Belfast levelled, David Rutherford with some excellent skating to outpace a Devils d-man, and his superb stick handling took him around Bowns to finish at 17:22.
Both netminders came out on top early in the second period, Whistle blocking several Cardiff shots in the early exchanges, while Bowns did brilliantly to spread himself low and deny John Kurtz in a one-on-one.
The visiting goalie couldn’t keep out the Giants’ second, however, as Sébastien Sylvestre fires the hosts ahead at 26:03, the forward wristing the puck high past Bowns on his glove side from the edge of the right circle.
Still the Welsh side looked like the better team, and their best chance fell shorthanded as the puck broke to Paul Crowder at the doorstep but he couldn’t elevate the puck enough to beat the solid Whistle
The Belfast stopper had to be alert to finish the period too, making two brilliant stops to deny a late Cardiff surge as they aimed to level proceedings going in at the second intermission.
Their equaliser wasn’t long in coming though, and it was a beautiful pass from Andrew Hotham that set up Patrick Asselin on the powerplay, the forward gliding in unmarked at the backdoor to tap in the inch perfect pass at 44:56.
A minute later and the Giants regained their lead through Rutherford, who was put through one on one with Bowns and, after some more excellent stick handling, finished low past the netminder again at 45:58.
The Devils were still doing a lot of pressing and the only thing missing was a finish, with Whistle again producing a stunning reflex top to deny Layne Ulmer’s tip at the crease, before then thrusting out his stick to blank a play at the backdoor.
But the penalty kill would again let Belfast down as the Devils tied it up for a second time at 54:52, defenceman Mark Richardson finding space at the post to divert home another pass from Hotham.
That sent the game to the controversial five minute period of 3-on-3 overtime, Spiro Goulakos ripping home a slapshot from the blueline, however the officials waved it off, to the anger of the home bench, taking the game to penalty shots.
Justice was done though, Darcy Murphy finishing Belfast’s second shot and Whistle making all three saves to hand the hosts the first two points of the weekend.
Man of the Match: Jackson Whistle (Belfast Giants)
Belfast Telegraph Digital