Belfast Giants 7-3 Guildford Flames
The Belfast Giants came into Friday's game against the Guildford Flames scoreless in their last 20 powerplay opportunities. So of course it would prove to be the catalyst for a blow-out win at the SSE Arena.
The Giants rattled in strikes on three consecutive powerplays in the middle period on the way to a comprehensive 7-3 win over the Flames, who they have now beaten in their last three meetings, as they keep their Elite League title hopes alive.
In front of his family, who are in town for his 28th birthday, David Goodwin opened the scoring at 8:07 of the second with his 13th of his season, and his strike was quickly followed by further hits from Bobby Farnham at 12:08 and Liam Morgan at 13:15.
Jordan Smotherman and Elgin Pearce then added a pair of goals 11 seconds apart at the end of the period to chase Flames starter Travis Fullerton, who made 20 saves, with Wouter Peeters making 11 stops in relief but being beaten by Morgan for his second of the night and Ryan Lowney in the final period.
But by the time Peeters entered the game the damage was done, Goodwin's goal seeing him tally his fourth goal in as many games, along with an assist, as he continues a hot streak in front of net, while the Giants got a big three-point night from Pearce, who had a goal and two assists.
"I thought we played really well. Even when they pushed back in the third I thought we responded really well with a sixth goal. It was a good all-round game for our team," said Pearce.
Adam Keefe's side improve to 27-16-3 on the season and close the gap to the Sheffield Steelers at the top of the Elite League standings to just four points with eight games remaining in the season.
They were aided by a 22-save display in goal from backup Stephen Murphy, deputising for regular starter Shane Owen, while the penalty kill was in its usual form in going a flawless 3-for-3 to shut the door at the other end as the Giants had one of their more disciplined performances.
But it was the outstanding offensive display in the middle period that was the most impressive part of the performance as the Giants took control through their ruthless powerplay - which went 3-for-4 on the night as a whole - and rode the wave of momentum to put five past Fullerton.
"We were being direct and executing some of the things we spoke about in midweek," said head coach Keefe of the improved powerplay which, after failing to connect on one occasion in the first, snapped an 0-for-21 run.
"From there, guys were making plays, making good choices. That was important. They were great tonight, I was really happy for them."
Guildford had actually taken the lead at 3:34 of the period when Jamie Crooks stabbed in a rebound at the crease after Ben Davies hit the post with his initial shot, but after that it was all Belfast as they turned up the heat and proceeded to out-shoot their visitors 16-9.
With Jordan Rowley in the box for tripping, Goodwin, in front of his family, levelled things up with his 13th of the campaign when he forced the turnover in the offensive zone and fired low past Fullerton to make it 1-1 at 8:07, with Farnham then getting the go-ahead goal at 12:08 when he deposited the rebound from Patrick Mullen's shot for 2-1 with Ian Watters off for hooking.
Watters' indiscipline then cost his side when he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and the Giants capitalised, Morgan grabbing his first of the night when he found space in the slot and finished his own rebound at 13:35 to make it 3-1.
Then came the two killer goals, which arrived only 11 seconds apart, Smotherman finishing off Ward's feed back in front for the game-winner at 16:22, followed quickly by Pearce tipping in Kevin Raine's blue-line shot to make it 5-1, leading to Fullerton smashing his stick off the boards by the bench.
"When you're playing well, you want to continue putting goals in the net, give yourself the best chance to win. We continued to roll, and even when they bounced back, we continued to roll," said Pearce.
The Flames backstop was pulled for the final period in place of Peeters, and Guildford actually pulled it back to a two-goal game when Crooks this time turned provider for Davies on a two-on-one breakaway to make it 5-2, and then Erik Lindhagen finished at the backdoor to make it 5-3.
But any fears that the Giants might be clawed back to overtime were doused when Morgan added his second at 13:06 of the final frame to retake their three-goal lead, and then Ciaran Long laid one on a plate for Lowney to round off the scoring with 2:11 left, capping a job well done for the hosts.
"We did a lot of good things tonight. A lot of things to do better, which is great because it means we can improve, but on the whole I thought it was a very good performance from us," concluded Keefe.
The two sides do it all again on Saturday (7pm) for the second game of their doubleheader at the SSE Arena.