The Belfast Giants have skated away with the EURO Cup for the third time in four seasons.
In Game 6 of the Finals against a dangerous Lisbon squad, the Giants made the most of their opportunity to end the series by jumping out to a 2-0 lead before Lisbon could get going. Matt Duchene, a candidate for Player of the Year in the league, scored the game’s first goal in the first period and then added the second goal eight minutes into the second period. Lisbon forward Joe Pavelski notched his seventh of the playoffs with 3:36 remaining to give Lisbon fans hope, but the third period did not contain the comeback they were hoping for. Instead, Justin Faulk ripped a high slapshot from the point that found its way through a crowd in front of Lisbon goalie Kari Ramo, and then a shorthanded goal by Giant captain Claude Giroux eight minutes into the third left no doubt that Belfast was about to celebrate with the Cup again. Belfast goalie Jonathan Quick made 30 saves to earn the win.
For most of Season 7, the Giants were not considered by many to be the top dog in the league; Minsk was. Belfast seemed to be slipping a bit from its glory days when the Giants took the Season 4 and 5 Cups. Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Nazem Kadri had to be traded away in Season 6 in order to keep Belfast’s roster under the salary cap. But by the end of Season 7, with Duchene basically on fire every night, Belfast was right there with Minsk, tied at the top of the standings with 120 points. The two powerhouses from the Northern Conference never met in the playoffs becasue Moscow shocked Minsk in the second round, winning in 7 games.
Belfast prevailed with 4 great defensemen (Victor Hedman, Justin Falk, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and P.K. Subban), two powerful lines (Giroux centering Evander Kane and James Neal; and Duchene between Nathan MacKinnon and Ondrej Palat) and of course Quick in net.
General Manager Chris Patton did a masterful job of keeping his team strong despite the salary cap restraints and he’ll have to work some more magic right after he’s finished celebrating this Cup victory. In truth, he’s already started. During Season 7, Patton made a big trade to get Niko Hovinen from Prague, anticipating the day when Quick will no longer be good enough to be Belfast’s starting goalie. One trade he made almost came back to haunt him though. Patton couldn’t afford to keep everyone, so he dealt Matt Moulson for a third-round draft pick. That was Moulson on the top line in Lisbon facing Patton’s team this last week-and-a-half after putting together a career-best, all-star season with 89 points and 32 goals for the Portugese team.
Patton will have some free agents to deal with in the off season, including Faulk, Subban, Mikko Lehtonen and Sergei Mozyakin, who are all restricted free agents, but who will all be asking for big pay raises.
Lisbon, meanwhile, rose to become the pride of Portugal. They only finished sixth in the conference this season, but they came together at just the right time and knocked off Madrid, Athens and then Bratislava in the playoffs before their date with Belfast.
General Manager Bryan Camara will, like Patton, have to worry about four key free agents in the off season if he wants to keep his team in the hunt for the Season 8 Cup. If unrestricted free agents Moulson and Pavelski decide to stay in Portugal, then Camara will probably save some cash because Pavelski is currently earning an obscene $9 million. But defensemen Sami Vatanen and Jonas Holos are in line for pay raises.