Giants 6 – 3 Devils
Last week’s league encounter between these two teams had easily gone the way of the Devils, but no-one thought this Cup final would be so one-sided. Not least in this was the return of Rutherford who had been the scourge of the Devils in Belfast. But also because this was a cup final, and the Giants have all but conceded the league, but a chance to win a trophy in a one off game would mean they would throw all their physicality into it.
The first period started well for the Devils with Mo & Strachan generating a couple of early chances. At 2.46 Benti was clipped by boards, scrambled up and crossed to Ulmer to give the Devis an early lead. Faryna looked intent on matching the Giants physical play, and the Devils looked assured in defence, with quick transition. The Giants began to scratch their way back into the game around the 10 minute mark, but the Devils remained dominant. Hotham’s precision breakout passes frequently set up attacking opportunities. A scrap between Faryna and Martinelli led to both getting penalties and foreshadowed the niggles that would come later in the game. Mason took a tripping call at the end of the first and a Devils shot hit the inside of the post and rebounded out. This finished the period, and that failure to get a second would come to significance.
The second period started similarly, but when Fournier slipped (or was tripped, depending on your view) in the Giants zone they broke quickly on an odd man rush and Benedict tied the game. The Devils regained the lead quickly when Goulakas took out Benti by the boards and on the resultant PP Martin set up Fournier from behind the net who finished with his customary snapshot from point. This could have marked a foundation to establish a dominant lead, but it proved to be the high point of the Devils momentum. A beautiful pass from Hotham saw Benti lunge and make contact but it went wide. After this Pope haD two quick efforts saved and then the Giants broke and Saviano switched the puck to Rutherford by post to equalise again. After a Rutherford tripping penalty a fracas occurred by the Devils bench and it threatened to deteriorate. When Crowder went for tripping at around the midway point it felt like for the first time that the game was swinging towards the Giants. The Devils couldn’t finish wren their chances arose, but the giants made their’s count. The Devils killed the penalty but couldn’t gain control and Ferland finished from tight angle to give Belfast a deserved lead. After the end of the period Rutherford hit Bowns whch led to a scuffle with Benti, who took a penalty. The Giants were suckering the Devils into their game, which meant not only taking penalties but also relinquishing their belief in controlling the game.
The third started with an effective PK but all the belief seemed to have flowed to the Giants as if the plexi between the benches was a permeable membrane and it osmosis had drawn it through. The Giants came away with puck more often and looked more ominous when in the Devils zone. When Towe tipped in a Saviano snapshot to make it 4-2, the cup only seemed to be going one way. The Devils huffed but to no effect and the Giants continued to win all the small battles. A giveaway allowed Murphy to score their 5th unassisted. The Devils pulled one back via Mo on a PP with Bowns pulled, but any comeback was snuffed out when Ferland took the second opportunity to score on an empty net.
During the week there was much made of the fans being the “7th man’. The game tonight demonstrated that momentum is really the extra ingredient. Momentum was pretty evenly split in two halves across the game, but the Giants made more effective use of it when it came their way. There was a certain symmetry to their victory: the Devils renaissance started with a Challenge Cup win at the home of the dominant team, and Keefe’s era at the Giants starts the same way. For the Devils it was not their night, had some bounces and rebounds gone their way earlier it may have been different. In the end though it seemed like the opportunity to take this trophy was more meaningful for the Giants and sometimes that desire can’t be thwarted.