Giants 2 – 3 Devils
The victory against Sheffield on Wednesday, and superior regulation wins meant that a win against Belfast tonight would seal the league and the conference titles for the Devils. A Friday night game in Belfast meant that even with the championship up for grabs, like most Devils fans I watched this remotely.
The first period saw the home team grow in momentum, eager to demonstrate that their season didn’t end with the challenge cup victory. It took resolute defending from Reddick, Strachan and Bowns in particular to keep them scoreless in the opening minutes. However they couldn’t maintain this and a two on one break saw Saviano feed Shields to slot past Bowns. The Giants continued with their pressure, but in a reverse of what the Devils had suffered in Sheffield the previous Sunday, they overcommitted. When Connolly lost the puck on the blue line, a one – two between Martin and Pope allowed Martin to equalise almost immediately. The Devils effectively killed a penalty to end the period, rather fortunate and relieved to be on equal terms.
If the Challenge Cup had been characterised by the Giants taking advantage of their momentum, then this proved the opposite. In the second period a tripping call from Reddick on Murphy went uncalled, and on the subsequent attack Pope waltzed through and flipped it backhand past Truehl top shelf to give the Devils the lead. A sense of grievance threw the Giants out of their stride for a while, but they marshalled this into effective aggression as the period progressed. This produced a result when Goulakos’s shot squirmed through Bowns’s clutches to draw the game level again.
The first period had belonged to the Giants, the second was largely even, but the third saw possession and offence shift to the Devils. Having got themselves to one period from the lifting the trophy, they upped the intensity and speed of their play. However, as the Devils had been in the first period, the Giants resisted their attacks. Giants players and fans again felt aggrieved when a boarding hit from Louis went unnoticed. Then, when we thought it might be heading to overtime, one of those goals that is destined for video highlights reels for years to come transpired. With 20 seconds remaining the puck was cleared from a Devils attack all the way back to Bowns who knocked it out to Hotham. He dinked past one player on the blue line, skipped over the stick of Goulakos and beat Martinelli’s attempt to cover to finish over Truehl’s shoulder. The Devils saw out the remaining seconds, and the back to back league titles were secured. There could be no more fitting goal to claim it than that by Hotham. It demonstrated why Lord has faith in him, his quality and his ability to see a project through. These are heady days and that goal is emblematic of this era.