Blaze blitz Belfast as Giants split weekend series with Coventry
BELFAST GIANTS 1 - COVENTRY BLAZE 4
Every time the Belfast Giants threaten to finally hit a run of form, along comes a result like this that takes them back to square one as if nothing had ever changed.
Saturday's win over the Coventry Blaze, a dominant and comfortable 4-1 success, was the kind of display that had fans wondering if the team were back on an upward trajectory. Losing by the same scoreline to the same team on Sunday did the opposite.
Blaze forward Andrew Johnston notched a double in the visitors' win at the SSE Arena, including the game-winner at just 5:44 of the first period when he took Justin Hamonic's stunning stretch pass and applied the finish past Giants netminder Stephen Murphy, deputising for Shane Owen.
The centre then came up with Coventry's third as well, this time at 12:45 of the second period on the powerplay - with Liam Reddox off for tripping - as he thundered in a one-timer from the right circle off John Curran's feed.
Head coach Adam Keefe opted to give Owen the night off between the pipes and put in Murphy, but the Belfast backstop only made 14 saves in taking the loss, while at the other end Blaze netminder C.J. Motte was resolute in turning away 43 of the 44 shots on him.
With the defeat, the Giants fall to 19-11-2 on the season, while they saw a great chance at clawing back some of the deficit at the top of the Elite League standings pass them by in splitting the weekend double-header.
"I thought we did a lot of things well tonight. The shot count will account for that. But mentally we made some mistakes that cost us," said head coach Keefe.
"We took too many penalties tonight and then our penalty kill didn't get it done. We were chasing the game and it allowed them to play a lot simpler. We were a one and done team in the offensive zone and it's tough to come back in the third period like that."
It's a reflection of another tough offensive night that Belfast's only goal came on the powerplay, which was 1-for-4 on the night, as Ryan Lowney found Ben Lake at the crease and the British international managed to spin and squeeze the puck past Motte down low at 14:55 of the opening period, but by then it was already too little, too late.
Despite dominating the shot count 14-4, the Giants had found themselves trailing at the first intermission as the Blaze burst into an early lead, catching netminder Murphy cold.
Luke Ferrara continued his excellent form in front of goal by sniping home from the left circle on the powerplay - Matt Pelech in the box for high sticks - at 3:07 for 1-0, followed by Johnston doubling their lead with his first of the night at 5:44 on the breakaway.
Lake then pulled the Giants back to 2-1 with his powerplay marker when Ferrara took one of his four minor penalties during the game, and when Hamonic landed a few blows on Rickard Palmberg behind the play, Ciaran Long stood up for his team-mate by dropping gloves with the Coventry defenceman in retaliation.
"Rick's a skilled guy. He's come in hot for us. I saw him having an altercation and I didn't want him to have to fight so I just put myself in the position to fight," said Long.
"I knew were 2-1 down as well, so I was hoping we'd get a momentum swing as well, but it didn't work out for us."
But that was as good as it was to ever get for the Giants, and when Palmberg almost got the perfect payback early in the second when his nice play almost provided the leveller, only for Motte to get his pad out to block the Swede's backhanded effort, that was to be as close as it was to being a tie game.
At the other end, Chris Pohlkamp was just the crossbar away from another Blaze goal before they did find their third when Liam Reddox was called for tripping, John Curran feeding Johnston in the right circle for the powerplay marker at 12:45 of the middle frame for 3-1.
And it would be a three-goal deficit at the second intermission as Coventry added a fourth at 15:56, this time Matt Pohlkamp getting the finish as he tipped in Dillon Eichstadt's blue-line effort at the crease for 4-1.
Both sides had chances early in the third on the powerplay, the Blaze to kill it off when Palmberg was pinged for a hold and then the Giants to get back into it when Ferrara took his fourth minor of the game for slashing, but neither prevailed.
The Giants' penalty kill would end the night 3-for-5 when they played out a late Elgin Pearce roughing call, but that denied them any chance of maintaining any momentum to even attempt taking the game to overtime.
The Giants are back in action in a top of the table clash when they welcome the Sheffield Steelers to the SSE Arena on Friday night in a game that is fast becoming a must-win in the context of the Elite League standings.
Belfast Telegraph Digital