Belfast Giants edging closer to another league title

Mark Cooper was on the scoresheet for Belfast Giants against Manchester Storm
Mark Cooper was on the scoresheet for Belfast Giants against Manchester Storm Mark Cooper was on the scoresheet for Belfast Giants against Manchester Storm

THE Belfast Giants can now taste Elite League title glory once again as they lead the way by five points with just six games remaining following another four-point weekend on the road.

A day after beating title rivals the Sheffield Steelers 4-0 at the Utilita Arena, Adam Keefe's side walked out of Planet Ice Altrincham with a 4-1 win over the Manchester Storm for a perfect weekend.

With the second-placed Guildford Flames tripping up at home to the Steelers, falling to a 4-1 loss, the Giants now know that if they can win their next five games - all of which are at the SSE Arena - then they will defend their title and lift their third Elite League crown in their last four seasons.

And their win over the Storm was another excellent performance to add to the growing list as netminder Tyler Beskorowany turned away 29 of the 30 shots he faced to backstop them to another win, with David Gilbert, Mark Cooper, player of the game Josh Roach and Henrik Eriksson all on target.

The Giants got off to the perfect start just 1:07 in when a brilliant stretch pass from Sam Ruopp hit Gilbert streaking into the offensive zone and he beat Storm goaltender Jeremy Brodeur with the perfect backhand shot.

Beskorowany produced a couple of big saves to deny Anthony DeLuca and Cole Carter before Belfast went unrewarded on a powerplay when Dallas Ehrhardt was penalised for a trip on Matt McLeod.

Mark Cooper was denied a goal when he put the puck in the net off a rebound but it was ruled out for Brodeur's face mask being off, but he would get his goal at 10:52 when he banked it off the goaltender and in from a sharp angle.

The middle frame started on a high, too, as Roach grabbed the Giants' third at just 22:41 when Mark Cooper fed Will Cullen, who cut inside and passed across for his defensive partner to convert the one-timer.

Despite their comfortable lead, Beskorowany had to be at his best to make a huge stop to deny Finlay Ulrick seemingly an empty net tap-in to maintain the shut-out as the hosts pressed.

But the next time the puck ended up in the net it was the Giants again who scored as Eriksson and Steve Owre went on the breakaway, with the former providing the finish from the right circle at 27:26.

Grant Cooper dropped the gloves with Tyson Fawcett almost straight off the face-off, with the Giants winger serving two minutes for boarding prior to that, while the Storm also went unpunished when Stephen Johnson was penalised for slashing.

DeLuca almost got the Storm on the board early in the third period when he fired wide of the cage with Beskorowany pulled out of position, while at the other end Brodeur was exceptional to deny McLeod one-on-one, then Scott Conway.

But the clean sheet would be ruined at 50:46 by Tyler Barrow, the Storm forward skating onto the rebound in the slot and finally beating Beskorowany for the first time over the course of the weekend.

A delay of game penalty on Matt Foley looked to put the Giants under pressure late on, but it was mitigated by a Scott Simmonds high sticking minor, although Beskorowany needed to make one more massive save to deny Carter on the breakaway to wrap up the two points.

The Giants know they can take another massive stride towards their title defence when they take on the third-placed Cardiff Devils in a home double-header next weekend, where two wins would not only move them closer to the crown but eliminate the Devils from the race.