Smotherman hits hat-trick as Belfast Giants book spot at Finals Weekend
Coventry Blaze 2-7 Belfast Giants (Agg: 2-12)
Not content just to see out the remainder of this quarter-final and make it to Finals Weekend with little drama, the Belfast Giants booked their place in Nottingham emphatically.
Leading 5-0 from the first leg, the Giants had extended that advantage to eight by the end of the first period and then set about making the final aggregate score as lopsided as possible thanks to the supreme play of Jordan Smotherman.
A second period fightback from the Blaze prevented the scoreline from reading any worse - indeed, the difference was eight at the final buzzer - but it was never enough to prevent Belfast from securing both legs of the tie.
While the result was never really in doubt, Smotherman's hat-trick was notable on the night, while Kyle Baun had two assists and Jonathan Ferland added his second play-off goal in as many games by opening the scoring.
The veteran centre put the Giants ahead moments after their powerplay unit had passed up a chance to open the scoring when Shawn Pauly went off for slashing, Ferland lasering in a slapshot from the top of the right circle at 10:43 of the opening period for just his 11th on the season.
Meanwhile, Smotherman opened his account on the powerplay - which was 1-for-4 on the night - when Coventry defenceman Nicolai Bryhnisveen headed off for a trip and the Giants winger added the visitors' third with just two seconds of the opening period remaining, firing from the edge of the left circle and beating Blaze netminder Jordan Hedley.
The American forward grabbed his second of the game with the final goal of the tie, pocketing number 12 of his abbreviated season in Belfast when he forced in a rebound at the back door after Kendall McFaull's initial shot with just 1:14 elapsed in the third period.
And he completed his treble with 1:57 remaining in the game, skating onto a puck in the right circle and finding Hedley's five-hole for the finish to bring his tally on the season to 13 goals and 22 points in just 23 games in teal.
In between the two first period strikes, the Giants scored the goal of the night when defenceman Jim Vandermeer cannoned in a one-timed slapshot from the right circle after some lovely passing from Patrick Dwyer and Blair Riley for his ninth of the season at 12:59.
Hedley's inclusion from the start was interesting in itself given the controversy caused by Coventry's regular starter Matt Hackett at the SSE Arena the night before, and the young British backstop failed to live up to the strong performance he had when the two sides met a week ago in Coventry.
He certainly would have wanted the Giants' fourth back just 1:03 into the second period, which increased the aggregate lead to nine, as the netminder failed to glove Kyle Baun's shot from the left circle and Dustin Johner was quickest to the rebound at the crease to force it in.
The Giants' penalty kill was 2-for-3 on the night and it was on the man disadvantage that they conceded their first goal of the quarter-final 6:27 into the second period. Former Blaze winger Lewis Hook was called for slashing and with him in the box, a stretch pass put Shawn Pauly in on Tyler Beskorowany and he finished five-hole from the left circle.
Up to that point Beskorowany had barely seen any rubber, but he was beaten in quick succession as Coventry's leading scorer Ben Lake added a second at 10:37 of the second as the hosts continued their comeback, the forward getting a shorthanded breakaway and finishing coolly with Kevin Morris in the box for a boarding call.
But the comeback never got any further than that as Belfast finished in style, Smotherman completing his hat-trick before Blair Riley added insult to injury with a seventh with just 31 seconds remaining - his 38th of the season - when he finished off a pass out in front.
Now they can start dreaming about the Grand Slam.
Belfast Telegraph Digital