Belfast Giants in fifth as Cardiff Devils do a double
Cardiff Devils 5-3 Belfast Giants
Back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Cardiff Devils have seen the Belfast Giants tumble to fifth place in the Elite League standings.
Just three weeks ago the Giants were top of the table, but have collected just two points since then - although their involvement in the Continental Cup means they have played just three league games in the interim period - and that has allowed Braehead Clan, the Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers and Cardiff to overtake them in the title race.
After losing 4-1 in the Welsh capital on Saturday night the Giants were looking for revenge as the double-header weekend entered round two yesterday.
Their mission failed, as Cardiff made it two wins out of two, this time with a 5-3 victory.
"Not good enough. We were fortunate to be in the game at 3-3 and we had a few passengers," said coach Steve Thornton.
The Giants got off to the worst possible start. With just over five minutes gone they were 2-0 down - and it could have been worse, with Cardiff missing a penalty shot in between the goals.
The opening goal came at 4:30 when Doug Clarkson nicked the puck away from the Giants defence and that error was fully punished by Joey Haddad, who scored with a low shot into the net - Cardiff's first effort on goal in the match.
Giants goaltender Carsen Chubak then saved Jesse Mychan's penalty shot just seconds later, but he was beaten at 5:10 when Mychan had another go and after he sent the puck across the net it hit Brent Walton before going into the net.
It was such a bad start for the Giants that Thornton used his timeout a minute later in an attempt to rally the troops.
That seemed to bring a spark to the team and after Calvin Elfring brought a fine save from Cardiff goaltender Ben Bowns the Giants pulled one back when Mike Kompon found Ray Sawada and he fired home at 12:49.
There was controversy surrounding the goal as Kompon continued playing with a broken stick, but the referee allowed it to stand.
Cardiff were soon two goals in front again after the Giants had Darryl Lloyd been sent to the penalty box. Joey Martin had already hit a post and he made no mistake when Jake Morisette presented him with a chance at 16:37.
The goalscoring in a thrilling first period wasn't finished there. Kevin Westgarth fired the puck towards goal for Adam Keefe to get the finishing touch at 18:58 and leave the Giants 3-2 behind.
After a whirlwind first 20 minutes the pace didn't slow down a lot in the second, but there was only one goal scored.
Jeff Mason levelled for the Giants short-handed, with Cody Brookwell in the box, as he collected Sawada's pass and finished on the spin at 29:25.
At that stage it was all to play for, with the Giants battling without four injured players, goaltender Stephen Murphy, Mark Garside, David Phillips and Kevin Saurette.
Kompon almost put the Giants in front for the first time seconds into the third period, but it was the Devils who made it 4-3 at 41:16 when Andrew Hotham fired past Chubak.
Cardiff were then awarded a powerplay when Evan Cheverie was punished for tripping and they made full use of their numerical advantage when Andrew Lord made it 5-3 at 47:42.
Thornton pulled Chubak in the final minute, but even though the Giants spent the final second of the game on the powerplay they couldn't get a goal back.
The Giants are now six points adrift of Braehead, but have two matches in hand. They have also played one game less than the four teams immediately above them, but would only be capable of overtaking Cardiff.
The Belfast Giants will face either Braehead Clan, Hull Stingrays or Coventry Blaze in the semi finals of the Challenge Cup, if they can get past the Cardiff Devils in the quarter-finals, after the draw was made on Saturday night.