Belfast Telegraph

Giants show steel to close in on final spot

Nottingham Panthers 1-5 Belfast Giants

By Stuart McKinley

Adam Keefe got the response he wanted from his Belfast Giants team as they planted one foot in the final of the Challenge Cup.

Three days after suffering a joint-record defeat when they went down 8-0 to the Sheffield Steelers, the Giants showed what they are made of by producing a solid performance in beating the Nottingham Panthers 5-1 in the first leg of the semi-final.

And not only did the powerplay - which has come under fire from coach Keefe - come up with two goals, the Giants also netted a stunning short-handed goal from Spiro Goualkos to put the icing on the cake.

Provided the Giants avoid a four-goal defeat in next Wednesday's return leg they will head to Cardiff for the final on Sunday March 4, with the Steelers the likely opponents after they won 6-2 against the Cardiff Devils in their first leg last night.

An exciting opening in Nottingham failed to deliver any goals, but when the Giants went on the powerplay after Tim Billingsley was punished for hooking they made the most of the numerical advantage to take the lead on the 10-minute mark. Jim Vandermeer found David Rutherford in space and he fired home past Patrick Galbraith.

Jackson Whistle made a good save to keep the Giants in front before roles were reversed when they doubled their lead just over four minutes later.

Rutherford fed the puck to Vandermeer and he struck from the edge of the face-off circle.

The Giants came close to adding to their lead in the final seconds of the first period, but only had to wait until 88 seconds after the restart before making it 3-0.

Rutherford's pass sent Blair Riley away and after drawing Galbriath he found Steve Saviano in space with the goal at his mercy and he had the simple task of tapping into the empty net.

The Panthers got back into the game on the 24 minute mark in somewhat fortunate circumstances. Mark Derlago's attempt to set up a chance saw him fire the puck from behind the goal into Whistle's back and the Giants goaltender knew little or nothing about it as the puck dropped into the net.

The Giants did a great job in killing a five-on-three before going on the penalty kill again, but this time they pulled out the moment of the match at 28:35.

Goulakos picked up the puck deep in his own zone and with little on he sent it the length of the ice and watched it bounce just in front of Galbriath before looping up and into the net.

The Giants put themselves firmly in control of the tie when they added the fifth goal on a powerplay with six and a half minutes to go.

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