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Giants strike back in style to up ante in Cup defence

Belfast Giants 6 (7)-3 (5)Glasgow Clan


Ice cool: Belfast Giants ace Blair Riley celebrates scoring last night

Ice cool: Belfast Giants ace Blair Riley celebrates scoring last night

William Cherry/Presseye

Ice cool: Belfast Giants ace Blair Riley celebrates scoring last night

The Challenge Cup defence is still well and truly alive and the Belfast Giants have shown no sign of giving up their crown without a fight, as the Glasgow Clan found out to their detriment last night.

At times the Giants - who trailed 2-1 from the first leg - looked like they were going to cut loose with Jordan Smotherman making it four goals in five games in a teal jersey as Adam Keefe's men advanced to the final with the Guildford Flames in Cardiff on March 10.

Winger David Rutherford continued his point scoring streak since being dropped to the second line, adding a goal and an assist, while Chris Higgins also added two assists in the 6-3 win, which earned a 7-5 aggregate triumph.

The powerplay was once again a potent weapon for Keefe's side fresh off scoring six times at the weekend, going three-for-four on a hot night for the special teams.

The Giants now progress to their second consecutive Challenge Cup final, where they will defend their title against the Flames, who they doubled up last weekend in the Elite League.

Glasgow came into the game 10-2 in their last 12 and holding that 2-1 lead from the first leg, but they never looked like troubling a Giants side buoyed by the return of Patrick Dwyer in the early stages and quickly found themselves behind.

A play behind the net saw Vaclav Stupka take a holding call and the Giants powerplay got to work, with Higgins' pass from underneath the left circle feeding Smotherman in the right circle where he finished at 9:33.

While Rutherford was the one who put the Giants ahead on aggregate for the first time at 13:36, they had their former forward Brendan Connolly to thank for taking a needless unsportsmanlike conduct call, bringing out the powerplay unit again.

They duly delivered, Blair Riley's shot from the top of the left circle batted out of the air by Rutherford and he had the cool head to spin and finish low past Joel Rumpel in the Clan net.

With Glasgow's defence all at sea, the Giants wasted no time in punishing them further, Rumpel only able to push Colin Shields' effort back into the left circle where Smotherman was lurking to bury the rebound at 13:55.

Not to be left off the scoresheet either, Kyle Baun extended the Giants' lead at 18:17 when he took Darcy Murphy's drop pass in the left circle and used Dwyer's excellent screen out in front to beat Rumpel low.

However, the Giants' frustrating habit of conceding late in periods handed Glasgow a lifeline with 50.5 seconds remaining in the first, a turnover in the defensive zone allowing Scott Pitt to drag back across the goal for Matt Beca to finish.

Tyler Beskorowany turned away 25 of the 28 shots he faced, and his most important save was to deny Connolly early in the second when he went on a breakaway, and it looked even more important when Riley struck the Giants' fifth of the night.

The captain was found in the high slot, faked the shot perfectly to get inside the defenceman and then sniped one high blocker on Rumpel 4:22 into the second.

It was another former Giants forward, Craig Peacock, who again made it interesting at 13:45 of the second when he reduced the aggregate back to two when his drive beat Beskorowany.

And it was made even more interesting when, 5:25 into the third, Travis Ehrhardt was afforded the time and space to load up on one from the blue line and he lasered it into the net to make it a one-goal tie on aggregate.

But when Dwyer was hooked as he drove in on Rumpel by Zack Sullivan, the Giants' powerplay teams were once again called into service and they didn't disappoint, Josh Roach with the wrist shot through traffic that Rumpel never saw before it hit the twine at 7:27 of the final stanza.

The powerplay had one more chance to strike when Peacock sat for goaltender interference, however this time they couldn't find the telling goal, although that wasn't to matter.

Belfast Telegraph