Adam Keefe’s Belfast Giants punched their ticket to the final of the 2021-22 Elite League Playoffs with a 6-0 win over the Dundee Stars, including a sensational Mark Cooper hattrick.
Following ten minutes of intense Dundee pressure from puck-drop, the ice tilted favourably for the Giants midway through the opening period, and they didn’t look back thereafter.
Belfast took the lead with 5:38 remaining in the opening frame, with Cooper notching his first of the afternoon from close range.
If not for a stunning save from Adam Morrison less than a minute later, the Giants would’ve led 2-0 at the break. Dundee’s netminder scrambled from right to left to thwart a clear-cut opportunity for the league champions, ensuring the semi-final remained a contest after first intermission.
Belfast continued to assert their authority in period two, scoring almost immediately after the restart. Cooper capitalised on a defensive lapse in the neutral zone before shooting over Morrison’s shoulder and into the Stars’ net on the short side.
Omar Pacha’s side went on the power play twice during the second period but were frustrated by Belfast’s organised penalty kill on both occasions. From there, the Giants’ tilted ice became mountain-like for Dundee.
Cooper completed his hattrick on 28:47 to extend the Giants’ advantage, tipping a Ciaran Long shot beyond Morrison’s grasp and sending the travelling Teal Army into raptures.
What a performance this is for @BelfastGiants and there has been nobody better than Mark Cooper! 🔥
Cooper delivered his hat-trick with this goal, and Soy has since added another to make it 4-0 through two periods 🎩 pic.twitter.com/vON5lYYbsz
— Premier Sports (@PremierSportsTV) April 30, 2022
“I’ve got to give credit to the whole team,” he told British Ice Hockey after the final buzzer, “but they were big goals and I was having a lot of fun out there.”
Jordan Boucher added to Belfast’s margin with just over two minutes remaining in the middle frame, scoring seconds after a Giants power play elapsed.
In the final period, Lewis Hook converted on the man-advantage, slipping a wrist-shot under Morrison’s arm to compound Dundee’s woes.
The Stars rallied in the closing minutes, forcing Tyler Beskorowany into a flurry of acrobatic stops, but the Canadian netminder shut the door.
“You’ve got to stay focussed during a semi-final whether you face two shots or two,” he said in post-game media availability. “It’s not the easiest position to be put in but you’ve just got to find the way.”
David Goodwin placed a cherry on top for Keefe with less than two minutes remaining, scoring on the power play, assisted by Cooper, to put the Giants’ 6-0 win on ice.
Reaction as Belfast Giants Advance to 2022 Playoff Final:
“In the first ten minutes [Dundee] came out very hard but Besko was very big for us and gave us a chance to find out feet in the game,” Keefe told reporters at Motorpoint Arena. “Then we had some timely scoring, I don’t think it was a 6-0 game by any stretch of the imagination – I felt the Stars were playing well.
“We were certainly clinical when we had opportunities: the two penalty kills and power play goals put the game away.”
Hattrick hero Cooper added: “I thought we played a full 60 tonight. Dundee came out real strong, but we found a way to manage that push and shut them out. We should be going into tomorrow with a lot of confidence.”
While the Giants move onto the final, Dundee will contest tomorrow’s third-place playoff.
“We look at it as a bronze-medal game,” Pacha said. “Obviously, that’s not the one you want to be playing before the weekend but now it’s an opportunity to have one last good performance with this squad.
“It’s a good group of guys and they’re so thankful for our fans for travelling all the way down from Dundee and creating a real buzz in the city. I’m sure the guys will try to finish as hard as they can because they’re a great group and are so thankful for all the love they’re getting from their supporters.
“Our fans have been extraordinary this season, hopefully we can give them the performance they want tomorrow.”
2021-22 Playoff Finals Weekend Schedule:
Semi-Finals – Saturday, 30 April 2022:
Belfast Giants 6-0 Dundee Stars, 15:00
Cardiff Devils (3) v (5) Guildford Flames, 19:00
Finals – Sunday, 1 May 2022:
TBD v Dundee Stars, 13:00
Belfast Giansts v TBD, 17:00
The 2021-22 Playoff Final will be broadcast exclusively on Premier Sports.