Powerplay on fire as Belfast Giants make it a double against Guildford
Belfast Giants 7-2 Guildford Flames
The Belfast Giants' special teams had a big night at the SSE Arena as they doused the Guildford Flames in the second game of their double-header.
The powerplay sparked again, striking three times to improve to 5-for-10 for the weekend, while the penalty kill stood strong under more pressure, going 8-for-9.
With the 4-1 win, the Giants improve to 33-10-1 and maintain their charge on the Cardiff Devils at the top of the standings, keeping the gap at one point after the Devils battled to a 6-5 win over Coventry.
Belfast are now on a seven-game winning streak in the league and are 7-1-0 in their last eight, with their recent defensive issues seemingly behind them having conceded just four over their last two.
Winger David Rutherford had a Gordie Howe hat-trick of a goal, an assist and a fight as he improved his output to 15 goals and 48 points on the season in a man of the match performance.
The Canadian fired home the Giants' fifth, a comebacker after the Flames had pulled it back to a two-goal game in the third, after assisting Kendall McFaull in the second period and dropping the gloves with Jesse Craige.
"In the Western League I've had a few (Gordie Howe hat-tricks), yeah, but now my fiancee doesn't really like me fighting!" laughed Rutherford.
"I got a good message from her afterwards, although that's maybe because I didn't lose the fight!"
A day after scoring the game-winner in overtime, Chris Higgins had a goal and an assist, Jim Vandermeer added two assists and Jordan Smotherman extended his scoring streak to three games with the Giants' second of the game as well as adding an assist.
Even more pleasing for Belfast will be the continued return to form of netminder Tyler Beskorowany, who turned away 30 of the 32 shots he faced in the Giants net.
"It was a good win, we played well on the kill and there's a reason we have such a good PK, a lot of guys block shots and we push the pressure up the ice a lot," said Beskorowany.
"The momentum can go either way when we're killing a penalty but the boys capitalised on our good kills and used it when we went the other way.
"I'm just making saves. Last weekend was pretty rough, so I wanted to have a bounceback weekend which is what I'm having right now. That has to continue into tomorrow."
Jonathan Boxill also dropped the gloves in defence of Lewis Hook, however that will likely rule him out of tomorrow's game against the Nottingham Panthers due to it being within the final five minutes of the game.
Despite the powerplay failing to click on a penalty to Kruise Reddick after just 36 seconds, Belfast were dominant to open and they deservedly led when Jonathan Ferland drove the net from the left circle, picked up a rebound on his own shot and flicked it over the sprawling Fullerton at 3:36.
The penalty kill unit took over for the middle part of the period, killing off back-to-back penalties to Curtis Leonard and Josh Roach, before the powerplay clicked back into gear again to double the lead at 17:36.
A shot from the point by Chris Higgins took a deflection out in front and deflected straight to the lurking Smotherman at the left circle, and the winger couldn't have asked for an easier finish.
Again the kill teams had to be strong to turn away two more penalties to Dustin Johner and Blair Riley back-to-back, limiting Guildford's dangerous offense with the extra man to just three shots across the two.
Kendall McFaull's strike at 9:39 of the second had much good fortune about it, the defenceman picking up the puck at the left circle and firing one on net which Fullerton never had covered despite seeing it all the way.
Darcy Murphy provided the screen out in front, but the Flames goalie should have done a lot better than letting the puck squeeze through his pads at the near post to find the twine and make it three.
The powerplay then struck again, Jordan Abt off for interference and some lovely passing provided Smotherman with the space in the right circle to fire on net and it beat Fullerton five-hole at 10:42.
It needed the video review to confirm, and on closer inspection it was Higgins who applied the final touch at the crease to get it past the goalie.
As strong as the penalty kill was, the Flames' natural ability with the man advantage was amplified with Dustin Johner and Blair Riley in the box to start the third period and they made it count.
Some good puck movement from the visitors saw them work it nicely into the slot, and Reddick put it on the tape of Calle Ackered's stick for the one-timed finish 41 seconds into the final stanza.
The Giants have made a habit of letting teams back into games in recent weeks, and there were fears it would happen again when the penalty kill stood strong while Ferland was off for an interference call, but then conceded as soon as he returned.
The shot from the point could only be batted back into the crease by Beskorowany and the waiting Reddick was there to sweep it into the net at 9:11 of the third.
But in much the same fashion, the Giants made sure of the win at 12:37 after passing up a powerplay opportunity with Craige off the ice.
Kyle Baun applied the aggressive forecheck in the corner, stealing the puck and laying it up perfectly for Rutherford in the slot to provide the roofed finish on Fullerton.
In quick succession the hosts made sure of the win, Jonathan Boxill battling at the crease to force it past Fullerton with 6:46 remaining, and the powerplay struck for the final time 17 seconds later when Josh Roach lasered a shot in from the blue line.
"The penalty kill was huge tonight, we saw Rainer go down and nearly block a shot with his head and that shows the willingness to put your body on the line, and that wins you championships," said head coach Keefe.
"Throughout the line-up I thought there were some big performances. I thought Besko was big, making some huge saves on those powerplays, sometimes your best player on the penalty kill is your netminder and tonight he was huge.
"And then scoring another three powerplay goals tonight was great, especially against a quality PK like Guildford, they make it uncomfortable to set up in the zone but it was nice to find a way around that and score goals."
The Giants conclude their three-game weekend as they travel to Nottingham to take on the Panthers in a Sunday matinee tomorrow (face-off 4pm).
Belfast Telegraph Digital