Connolly hat trick puts sparkle on Belfast Giants Dundee Stars victory
Belfast Giants 6 Dundee Stars 4
Brendan Connolly’s hat trick helped the Belfast Giants back to winning ways as they downed the Dundee Stars 6-4 at the SSE Arena in a Valentine's Day Elite League clash.
Forward Connolly rattled in two second period goals before adding an empty netter to finish the game as Adam Keefe’s side picked up the two points in a back and forth clash in Belfast.
It was usual man Jackson Whistle between the pipes for the hosts, while Dundee started everyday starter Travis Fullerton at the other end.
Both sides had early chances, Dundee forward Gabriel Lévesque forcing Whistle into a desperate stick check to deny him at the post, while Steve Saviano struck the crossbar on the backhand at the other end.
It was the visitors who finally broke the deadlock at 14:03, Jordan Cownie skating behind the net and pulling the puck back into the slot where Adam Harding was on hand to wrist it home.
The visitors had netminder Fullerton to thank for keeping them ahead at the intermission though, the Canadian doing well to read a Matt Towe shot that got a tip from John Kurtz before sprawling to deny Jonathan Ferland out in front.
Fullerton’s resistance fell apart four minutes into the second period, however he wasn’t helped by Lukas Lundvald Nielsen losing the puck in front of the net at 24:37, with Brendan Connolly taking full advantage by ripping a wrister past him on the stick side to tie the scores.
Belfast should have taken the lead a lot sooner than they did as Darcy Murphy somehow managed not to poke the puck past Fullerton when faced with a three-in-one, but the hosts didn’t have to wait long for their second.
On the powerplay, Connolly again benefitted from a misplayed puck at the blue line, and he took it to the right circle and finished with a well-placed wrist shot again on Fullerton’s stick side at 30:33.
The Stars got an immediate response, however, as an over-commitment from the Giants in the offensive zone gave Jimmy Jensen a breakaway, and the forward made no mistake with his shot crashing in off the bar at 31:43.
But a minute later and Belfast were ahead again, Dustin Johner showing excellent battling skills to win the puck against the boards behind the net and his centring pass was taken around Fullerton by Murphy for the finish at 32:48.
The warning signs were there for the hosts to end the second period, however, and when Cole Jarrett and Spiro Goulakos both found their way into the penalty box the Stars took full advantage on the 5-on-3 at 39:44, Anthony Mastrodicasa ripping in a slapshot from the high slot.
Having killed off the remainder of Goulakos’ penalty to start the third period, Kevin Raine had a fantastic chance to put the Giants back in front but was denied by Fullerton in a one-on-one, while Dundee forward Brian Hart made two outstanding blocks on goalbound shots.
Dundee’s resistance was bound to crack though, and it finally did on the powerplay at 48:37, David Rutherford firing the puck to the crease where captain Blair Riley was lurking to tip it in.
Whistle then had to spring to the hosts’ rescue on their own penalty kill when Cownie and Lawrence linked up well, the former putting it back into the crease for the latter only for Whistle to thrust out a pad to deny him.
But the Stars did strike again as their man advantage ended, Hart given far too much space at the crease and, although Whistle did make the initial stop, Jensen was on hand to stab home the rebound at the backdoor at 53:14.
It set up a tense finish, and in the end it was the Belfast powerplay that determined the outcome as they scored the game winner at 57:39, a dominant powerplay period finished off beautifully as Rutherford’s pass found Murphy lurking at the backdoor to slam home.
And there was still time for Connolly to wrap up his hat-trick with 28 seconds to go, the puck breaking to him in the Giants’ defensive zone and he slid it the length of the ice to seal the two points.
Man of the Match: Brendan Connolly (Belfast Giants)
Belfast Telegraph Digital