The Belfast Giants will feel aggrieved not to have left the Coventry Skydome with a draw on Wednesday night- as their tying goal on the power play was waved off by the officials with minutes remaining, despite fierce protests from players and coaches.
The Coventry Blaze will bring a one goal cushion to Belfast for January 14th’s second leg of the Challenge Cup Quarter Final, as a JJ Piccinich double fell just short of the mark in a 3-2 defeat.
The Belfast Giants were the more threatening of the sides after a scrappy start, with Blaze netminder CJ Motte called into action for an impressive double save in the third minute.
Lewis Hook found a loose puck at the crease moments later, but a sure-fire backhand effort was also turned away.
Tyler Beskorowany’s impressive save streak continued through the first 15 minutes, with the Giants goalie making a succession of big stops at the opposite end.
Scott Conway was sent to the box for tripping at 14:35, and after two successive shutouts in Scotland at the weekend, Evan Bloodoff was the man to finally find a way past Beskorowany, edging the hosts ahead on the power play at 16:19 (Assist: Nathaniel Halbert). (1-0)
The Giants found their reply on the power play (Joey Raats, interference, 21:22), as JJ Piccinich ripped a stunning shot from the right of the zone into the roof of Motte’s net at 22:35 (Assist: David Goodwin). (1-1)
Piccinich almost did it again when Alex Marsh was called for tripping at 24:02 when another shot from the right clipped the crossbar on its way over the glass.
The tone of the game changed at 25:21 when Giants forward Ben Lake was ejected for kneeing after contact with Mathew Thompson in the neutral zone. Thompson was subsequently helped from the ice to receive further treatment.
Despite Belfast killing the resulting 5-minute power play, the hosts struck again at 33:23 with JJ Piccinich in the box for hooking. Nathanael Halbert’s one timer from the blue line flew into heavy traffic in front of the crease on its way in (Assist: Dillon Eichstadt, Alex Marsh). (2-1)
Just 35 seconds later, another Halbert one timer took an awkward rebound off Beskorowany, leaving Evan Bloodoff to pounce from the edge of the crease. (3-1)
An Alex Forbes tripping penalty sent the Giants onto the power play at 45:18, and up stepped JJ Piccinich to bag his second of the night from the wide-open back door at 47:41 (Assist: Scott Conway). (3-2)
The Giants surged when Jaane Laakkonen was called for hooking at 50:50, and Adam Keefe called a time out with 36 seconds of power play remaining.
The visitors thought they had tied it in the dying seconds of the power play, but despite fierce protests from the players on the ice and the coach on the bench, the referee waved it off.
Belfast threw the kitchen sink forward in the final three minutes, as Jordan Boucher came close on a backhand drag across the slot, followed by a fantastic individual piece of skill from Scott Conway who was unlucky not to complete the wraparound.
Kevin Raine was called for illegal equipment with one minute remaining after losing his helmet and putting it back on before the whistle, and the Giants were left to close out the game on the penalty kill.
The Giants return home to the SSE Arena this weekend to take on the Fife Flyers on Saturday 11th December at 7:00pm, and the Nottingham Panthers on Sunday 12th December at 4:00pm. Tickets for both games are on sale NOW!
Game report by Joel Neill