Blaze progress to semi-finals of Challenge Cup

The Genting Casino Coventry Blaze produced a sensational third period comeback and penalty shots victory to dump the reigning Champions Belfast Giants out of the Challenge Cup on Wednesday.

The two teams tied the first-leg of the aggregate encounter at Skydome Arena 1-1, meaning the winner of the second-leg at SSE Arena would advance to the semi-finals and against all the odds that was the Blaze 4-5 via the shoot-out and 5-6 on aggregate.  

The first period followed a similar pattern to the first leg as both sides came out cagey and focussed on keeping things tight.

The Giants were a little careless on the puck in the early going which gave Coventry a couple of half-chances but the biggest first fell to Giants’ forward Ben Lake who missed the net on a breakaway.

The opening goal came came at 16.26 when Cameron Pound’s shot was re-directed into the top corner of Taran Kozun’s net by Ara Nazarian to give Belfast a 2-1 aggregate lead.

The home side began the brighter in the second period and Kozun was forced to deny two big chances early on.

Just before the half-way mark Lake had another huge chance to score past his former side, but he again missed the net in close at the back post.

With his team penned into their own zone for long stretches, Blaze coach Danny Stewart called a time-out just before the 33rd minute but the momentum remained with the Giants who made it 2-0 (3-1) at 33.23 through Henrik Eriksson.

The wind was completely taken from the Blaze sails at 41.12 when Quinn Preston rifled a shot past Kozun to make it 3-0 and 4-1 on aggregate.

Eriksson then registered again at 43.42 before Coventry got on the board through a fortunate bounce which fell to Kim Tallberg to make it 4-1 and 5-2 on aggregate at 45.52.

The goal gave the Blaze some much needed jump and they cut the Giants’ deficit to two with 8.59 remaining in the game when David Clements’ shot bounced off J.D. Dudek and into Tyler Beskorowany’s net.

40 seconds later Coventry got themselves back to within one goal through Alessio Luciani and to the shock of the home crowd the Blaze were level at 53.18 when David Clements’ long-range effort found the back of the net.

Neither team were able to find a winner in the final minutes of regulation or a thrilling overtime period and so the tie went to a shoot-out.

Dudek was first to register in the third round of the shoot-out and that was to be the game-winner as Kozun stopped all five of Belfast’s attempts to complete a miracle on ice.

Photo credit: William Cherry

The Blaze will face the Sheffield Steelers in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup competition and the Guildford Flames will take on the Glasgow Clan with dates of the two-legged fixtures to be confirmed.