Elite League: Double-chasing Giants defeat Blaze
Newly-crowned Challenge Cup champions Belfast Giants kept their slim hopes of a league and cup double alive with a 4-1 win against Coventry Blaze.
Adam Keefe's side closed the gap on Cardiff Devils to two points having played one game more than the leaders.
Blair Riley and Darcy Murphy scored for the Giants in the opening period before Ross Venus scored for Coventry.
The home side eased to a commanding victory as Jordan Smotherman and Kyle Baun scored in the dying seconds.
The Giants began the game four points behind the Cardiff in the standings and knew that a win was essential to keep up the pressure on the reigning champions in the title race.
Riley plays captain's role
Netminder Stephen Murphy started for the hosts, replacing Challenge Cup-winning hero Tyler Beskorowany, and the veteran was kept busy by the Blaze in the opening period as the visitors spurned four early power play opportunities.
Giants skipper Riley displayed the Challenge Cup to the home crowd before the puck dropped and the captain gave the home supporters further reason to cheer on 14:19 when he intercepted a Coventry attack and skated clear to score an unassisted goal with his team a man short.
A problem with the plexiglass at the SSE Arena meant that the two sides were sent to the dressing rooms with 26 seconds of the first period still to be played and the Giants chose that brief period after the restart to double their advantage as Murphy followed up on his own shot and fired the rebound past Matt Hackett.
Coventry pulled a goal back in the 27th minute through Venus, assisted by Shawn Pauly and Luke Ferrara, as he squeezed the puck through the splayed pads of Murphy.
Smotherman, the scorer of last weekend's overtime Challenge Cup-winning goal, spent two minutes in the penalty box in the final period for tripping but Coventry could not convert the powerplay.
The visitors pulled Hackett in the closing stages as they went in search of a late equaliser but Smotherman applied the coup de grace once more as he converted a wrist shot into the empty net with 44 seconds to go.
Baun completed the rout three seconds from the end for a commanding win that, while unfair on Blaze, sends a message to the Cardiff Devils that the Giants are determined to keep up the pressure in their title chase.
The Giants host Coventry once again on Saturday while Cardiff visit Sheffield Steelers for their opening game of the weekend.