Belfast Giants 1 Cardiff Devils 0
The winning streak continues for the Belfast Giants and now they have a genuine rivalry to add some spice to the rest of the season after an ill-tempered and utterly dramatic clash with the Cardiff Devils that will live long in the memory.
Despite the low 1-0 scoreline, this was a game that had everything — fights, both teams hitting the frame of the goal and a heavy helping of controversy in the dying embers.
On the hockey side of things, Tyler Soy’s seventh goal of the season was the difference between the two sides at the SSE Arena in a game packed with quality but equally outstanding goaltending from Tyler Beskorowany and Mac Carruth — 37 saves — as the Giants made it 11 wins in a row in the Premier Sports Elite League, but that was almost second to the madness that occurred in the final couple of minutes.
With the Devils on a powerplay, and with Carruth pulled for the extra skater, defenceman Matt Register thought he had tied it when his blue-line shot got all the way through and beat Beskorowany five-hole, but the netminder immediately challenged the call and urged the referees to take a look on the video review.
In scenes strongly harking back to that dramatic overtime game in 2019 between these two sides, the officials deliberated for almost four minutes before agreeing that the goal should be washed out, handing the Giants the win and preserving Beskorowany’s 26-save shut-out — his sixth of the season.
"It felt like the guy who cut across the net got into my blocker a bit and I wasn't able to make the save. I went to talk to Dalts (referee Andrew Dalton) immediately to get him to review it," explained Beskorowany.
"Haven't seen many goals overturned this season, so I wasn't really expecting it to be. At first I was (confident) but the longer the review went on the more I doubted myself. Either way, even if they'd called it a goal, you have to bounce back again.
"I was ready for it to count as a goal as much as I was ready for them to wave it off, I'm just glad they made the right call."
It was Soy’s goal at 18:55 of the second period that got the job done, the centre making some room for himself in the slot and picking the top corner over Carruth’s shoulder after Jordan Boucher’s pass for the game winner.
"That was a lot of fun. Tonight was a tough battle, and winning 1-0 feels unreal. It was a really competitive game and they're a really good team and for us to finally get a win against them is massive," said Soy.
"Scoring is a lot of fun, it feels good to be rewarded for working hard but we couldn't have done it without Besko tonight, he was unbelievable. He's a brick wall and when he plays like this we have so much confidence, especially in a game where we didn't score many goals."
But even beyond that, this was a game to remember. Twice in the second intermission the two sides came to blows, once in front of Carruth and the other on the sound of the buzzer for the second intermission, this time by Beskorowany’s net, and there is a genuine rivalry brewing between the two teams.
The former was particularly heated, Ben Lake and Trevor Cox coming to blows before Devils forward Justin Crandall added his weight to the melee, with Sam Ruopp tussling with Sam Duggan in the second clash on the horn.
The two sides meet again at Ice Arena Wales in exactly a week’s time and chances are relations between them won’t have improved much between then and now. Such was the physicality on show at the SSE Arena last night, chances are there could be a repeat performance.
But, for the moment, the Giants will be the happier of the two teams. Still unbeaten in their last 11 in the league, Adam Keefe’s side are now 17-5-0 for the season and this was a big win in the context of the title race.
Not only was it their first win over one of their genuine title rivals, but it cut into the Devils’ lead at the top of the standings, the Giants reeling them back so they are now just three points behind and still with five games in hand over their rivals.
"That was very big. Our home form has been great and we had two good games in Cardiff where we controlled the possession but to get rewarded for our efforts was important tonight," said Keefe.
"It was a play-off atmosphere and feeling, both teams knew what was at stake and, judging by the reaction at the end there, I think everyone else knew as well. A great advert for the league, so very happy for that and for our players, they got rewarded tonight."
The Giants go again on Saturday night in Manchester against the Storm (7pm), and go to Glasgow in midweek. But that Cardiff clash next week is now unmissable.