Elite League: Belfast Giants 7-2 Coventry Blaze
Darcy Murphy’s second period hat-trick set the Belfast Giants on their way to a 7-2 win over the Coventry Blaze at the SSE Arena in the Elite League.
The winger became the third Giant to score a hat-trick this season as Belfast took the second game of their doubleheader against the Blaze to back up their win on Friday night and close the gap to the Cardiff Devils to one point at the top of the table.
Adam Keefe handed regular starter Jackson Whistle a night off and put Chris Truehl in goal for the Giants, while Coventry again turned to their everyday man Kevin Nastiuk at the back.
It was the former netminder who was forced into action earlier, Truehl standing tall and getting his blocker out to deny Ross Venus after the Blaze forward found space in the slot.
At the other end, Colin Shields had a brilliant chance to break the deadlock after some fantastic passing in front of the net from Sébastien Sylvestre and Brendan Connolly, but Nastiuk produced an outstanding sprawling save to hold his snapshot.
Darcy Murphy also saw a chance pass by in a first period devoid of significant efforts on goal, the winger taking it in on the angle and going past Nastiuk only to fan on the shot as he lost his footing with the puck sliding away from him.
What the first period lacked in goals, the second did not, and Belfast took the lead at 24:51, David Rutherford skating round the back of the net and pulling the puck across the crease where Murphy won the net battle with Garrett Kloz to poke home.
Eleven seconds later that lead was doubled, the Giants attacking at pace and Jonathan Ferland turned the puck back into the slot where Brandon Benedict hammered home his second in as many games.
However, like the night before, the penalty kill was troubling the hosts considerably, and it was on a powerplay that the Blaze hit back, Kevin Raine deflecting away a shot from Marco Vallerand only for it to fall kindly to Adam Courchaine, who tapped in.
It was the Giants doing all the pressing without much reward as Nastiuk denied them on several occasions, and it led to frustrations as Sylvestre took a four minute penalty for abuse of official.
This penalty kill would be a kind one for Belfast, however, as Murphy nabbed his second, blocking a pass from Jordan Pietrus and going on a breakaway, finishing expertly through the five hole on the backhand at 37:23.
Back came the visitors and they reduced the deficit at 38:31, again on the powerplay, defenceman Alex Miner Barron given too much time in the right circle and he was able to pick his spot to wrist a shot past Truehl.
Belfast would have their two goal lead back at the second intermission though, and it was Murphy who wrapped up his hat-trick, firing home at the back door as Spiro Goulakos took the puck to the crease and passed across.
It was they who had the better chance in the early part of the third period as well, although another brilliant post to post sprawling glove stop from Nastiuk denied Sylvestre on an odd man rush.
The Giants wouldn’t be denied though, and they got their reward for more sustained pressure on the powerplay at 47:13, Nastiuk unable to freeze Connolly’s initial shot and Shields was lurking at the crease to scoop it in.
That spelled the end of Nastiuk’s night as he was replaced by Welsh netminder Brython Preece in the Blaze goal, but he fared little better as he became the latest to be beaten by a thunderous Goulakos slapshot, the d-man given too much space in the high slot to hammer home at 48:42 for the sixth.
Preece did redeem himself, however, with a superb spinning glove save to deny John Kurtz after Miner Barron should have netted himself a second for Coventry, hitting the post when a rebound fell his way.
Ryan Dingle misfired in a one on one shorthanded in the closing stages, but there was still time for one more Giants goal at 58:58, Jim Vandermeer skating in on goal and unleashing a vicious wrist shot by Preece to wrap up a good night at the office for Keefe’s men.
Man of the Match: Darcy Murphy (Belfast Giants)
Belfast Telegraph Digital