Belfast Giants get final shot at success
Coventry Blaze 1 Belfast Giants 1 (Giants win 1-0 on penalties after 3-3 aggregate draw): The Belfast Giants will defend their Elite League Play-off title in Nottingham next weekend.
Coach Doug Christiansen was put through the mill last night as his men only made it to the finals by the skin of their teeth with a penalty shoot-out needed to see off Coventry Blaze after two drawn contests between the teams.
Jeff Mason was the hero as he was the only player to successfully convert his penalty shot, with goaltender Stephen Murphy also playing a big part in the victory.
In a repeat of last year’s final the Giants will now face the Cardiff Devils in the second semi-final next Saturday.
Had the European football system, where the team with the most away goals goes through after a draw, been in operation the Giants’ season would have ended in disappointment last night after Coventry scored twice in Belfast on Saturday evening in front of a massive 6,500 crowd — the biggest at the Odyssey Arena in the Elite League era.
Instead they now have a chance to finish the season in glory by lifting a trophy.
“All the guys are pretty excited to have got out of this series and to be going to Nottingham next weekend,” said Christiansen.
“It was a game that had everything and the most important thing is that we’re going to be playing again next weekend.”
Despite outshooting Blaze by a ratio of two-to-one the Giants could only manage one goal in the SkyDome — Dan Welch equalising in the second period after Russ Cowley had put Coventry in front four minutes from the end of the first period.
That meant overtime was needed to decide who would head to
Nottingham and during the extra five minutes both teams had chances to score on a powerplay.
Murphy and his Coventry counterpart Brett Jaeger refused to be beaten — although the former only faced a single shot in the added time — and that meant qualification for the Play-off finals came down to three players from each team against their rivals’ goaltender. Mason hit the net with the first shot of the shoot-out, which put the pressure on Blaze. That pressure only increased when Greg Owen failed to beat Murphy.
When Welch and Luke Fulghum both missed, Craig Peacock had a chance to seal victory for the Giants before Coventry got a chance to take their third shot.
He wasn’t able to find the net, giving Greg Chambers the opportunity to force the tie into a sudden death shoot-out.
There was only agony for Chambers though as the Giants went into ecstacy and after holding their nerve last night the players will now be determined to bring the trophy back to Belfast for the second season in succession.