Giants take massive stride towards Euro joy with big victory
A second shutout in three games for netminder Tyler Beskorowany led the Belfast Giants to a 4-0 win over Croatian side Medvescak Zagreb in the perfect start to their Continental Cup semi-final campaign.
The netminder turned away all 34 shots he faced against the EBEL side at the SSE Arena as the Giants recorded their eighth consecutive win to take a big step towards the final stage of the competition.
On any other night, Patrick Dwyer would have won the Man of the Match accolade for his performance as he tormented the Zagreb defence, scoring one goal and adding two assists, but Beskorowany's shutdown night saw him in the spotlight instead.
That's now 17 wins from 19 games in all competitions and the Giants could secure their progression to January's Super Final if they beat Ritten Sport in tonight's second game of the group stage and Zagreb lose to Polish side GKS Katowice.
Of those 17 wins, this is arguably up there with the best of them. Against a side from a higher ranked European league, the Giants looked by far the superior team for the majority of the contest.
They did need Beskorowany to bail them out a couple of times though, particularly early when former Nottingham Panthers defenceman Yann Sauve tested him before Sebastien Sylvestre, formerly of the Giants, couldn't force it in on a two-one-one.
In between that, Belfast had chances, namely Jonathan Boxill who could only redirect a shot in the crease past the post, and they then saw a 5-on-3 powerplay opportunity pass them by, but the breakthrough did come before the intermission.
With time ebbing away, they got the goal with 15.3 seconds of the opening period left, the vision of Dwyer exceptional to spot the line of Vandermeer to the net, and the pass inch perfect for the defenceman to poke it home five-hole under Zagreb netminder Vilim Rosandic.
Not satisfied with putting one goal on a plate for a team-mate, Dwyer made it two at 25:32. Once again the pass was perfect, this time from behind the net back into the slot, and Lewis Hook couldn't miss with the one-timer.
Zagreb haven't had the best start to their domestic campaign, but even so they would have expected to win this game, and perhaps it was that shell-shock that caused Tomislav Zanoski to fire straight at Beskorowany rather than really test the netminder when put into acres of space by the mercurial Sylvestre, who was single-handedly spearheading the Zagreb attack.
But it wasn't enough. The former Giants favourite couldn't do it all, and when an early powerplay opportunity passed them by in the third period and the heads visibly dropped on the Croatian bench, you sensed that was all she wrote.
When Dustin Johner went forehand-backhand to flick it over a sprawling Rosandic at 50:36 for the third goal, after a perfect set-up pass from Hunter Bishop, that definitely was it.
There was even time for Dwyer to get the goal he deserved for his performance, benefiting from an aggressive forecheck by Kyle Baun to sweep home the loose puck through Rosandic's five-hole at 58:45 and put the icing on the cake.
Tonight, a win against Ritten, who lost the day's early game to GKS Katowice by the same scoreline, and the Giants will have more than one foot in the Super Final.
The way they're playing right now, that looks more a formality than a possibility.