Giants land first blow in finals bid against Devils
Belfast Giants 1-0 Cardiff Devils
A week after recording his first Odyssey Arena shut-out, goaltender Carsen Chubak produced another outstanding performance to give the Belfast Giants a great chance of making the Elite League Play-off finals next weekend.
Coach Steve Thornton plumped for the Canadian ahead of long-term injury victim Stephen Murphy and his decision paid off handsomely as Chubak made it two shut-outs in as many home games.
And his contribution was vital as Ray Sawada scored the only goal of a thrilling game against the Cardiff Devils, meaning that the Giants will take a slender lead to Wales for tomorrow night's second leg.
Former Stanley Cup winner Kevin Westgarth may have been named man of the match - and on another night it would have been hard to argue against that - but Chubak's performance could ultimately make the difference between the Giants going to Nottingham over Easter or their season finishing early.
After relinquishing their grip on the Elite League title in somewhat tame circumstances, the Giants knew that to salvage something from the season they must win the Play-offs and they played like that was the case too.
"I thought we played extremely well," said Sawada.
"We were taking it to them right off the bat. We let off a little bit in the second, but as a team, especially Kevin Westgarth in the third period, we really took it to them and it was a good win overall."
Although Mark McCutcheon and Kevin Saurette, who have both had their seasons ruined by injury, again missed out for the Giants, those who were on the ice came out flying and Cardiff goaltender Ben Bowns had to make a couple of big saves in the early moments of the game.
Cardiff were struggling to put meaningful attacks together - in fact they only put one shot on Chubak in the first 20 minutes while the Giants had 14 attempts - and just after they killed a penalty when Markku Tahtinen was punished for tripping, they fell behind.
Kevin Phillips, who like Chubak has produced his best form late in the season, came forward and after linking with Evan Cheverie, it was Sawada who produced the finish.
There was nothing particularly pretty about the goal, but it didn't matter as the 4,303 crowd inside the Odyssey went wild.
It was a much improved Cardiff performance in the second period. Two powerplay opportunities came and went before Chubak was called into serious action to keep his team ahead.
The Giants lost Mark Garside early in the third period after he took a hit - although amazingly he was penalised with a two-minute hooking penalty, which Nathan Robinson served.
Both teams went all out in the final 20 minutes - the Giants looking for another goal to give them more of a cushion going to Wales and Cardiff looking for an equaliser - but neither was able to get what they wanted and it will now be all to play for in tomorrow's return battle.