Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Giants' title bid is put on the spot

Dundee Stars 2 - Belfast Giants 2 Dundee won 2-1 on penalties

By Stuart McKinley

A penalty shoot-out defeat to the Dundee Stars has put a major dent in the Belfast Giants' hopes of retaining the Elite League title.

The point gained from taking the game into overtime may be viewed as a positive, but after losing at home to the Hull Stingrays on Saturday night, that was all the Giants managed to collect over the weekend and they now trail league leaders Braehead Clan by seven points - albeit with two matches in hand.

The inquest into last night's defeat will run deep, but it won't just focus on the team's performance.

Not only were the Giants denied a go-ahead goal with the scoreline at 1-1, they had Ray Sawada thrown out of the game immediately afterwards and then Darryl Lloyd was also ejected in the third period.

Those three decisions, plus dropping a point on the night and three overall over the weekend, will leave a bitter taste in the mouth for Steve Thornton and his players, particularly as they were expected to pick up the full four points against teams from the opposite conference.

The Giants fell behind twice in Dundee, levelling both times, but couldn't find a winning goal and the Stars were successful twice in the penalty shoot-out, with only Mike Kompon on the mark for the visitors.

It was the second period before the Giants hit real penalty trouble - they gave up eight powerplay opportunities in total during the game - but it was just a matter of seconds before they killed off Dundee's first powerplay of the night when the opening goal came at 14:12.

Kevin Westgarth had only just returned to the ice after a slashing offence when Kevin Quick found Chris Blight with a great pass and he slammed the puck beyond Giants goaltender Carsen Chubak to give Dundee the lead at the end of the first period.

The Giants were back on the penalty kill just 25 seconds into the second period, when Craig Peacock was punished for a boarding offence, but if anything they were the team who created more scoring opportunities during the two minutes.

Dundee goaltender Marc Cheverie - the brother of Giants forward Evan - made a smart save to deny Sawada as he broke away short-handed.

The positivity from the Giants kept rolling and they were back on level terms at 26:14 when Colin Shields took the puck and scored unassisted with his 14th goal of the season.

Everyone on the Giants bench were on their feet when they thought that they had taken the lead at 32:48, but not only was the goal disallowed, the decision to rule out Evan Cheverie's strike sparked major controversy.

Sawada had put in a big hit before he sent the puck forward for Cheverie to score past his brother, but referee Toby Craig chalked it off and then sent Sawada back to the dressing room, deeming him guilty of a boarding offence, with Thornton and stand-in captain Calvin Elfring - stepping in with Adam Keefe injured - unhappy.

As if that wasn't bad enough Dundee then rubbed salt into the wound when they scored on the resulting powerplay as James Isaacs set up John Dolan to finish at 37:08.

The Giants had to wait until late in the second period to get their first powerplay opportunity of the game, but it was worth the wait as they took full advantage with Westgarth knocking in his 11th goal of the season with 35 seconds of the period to go.

Robby Sandrock and Westgarth were both denied by big saves from Marc Cheverie before Lloyd was hit with a game misconduct penalty for spearing with nine minutes to go.

The Giants were simply relieved to kill the penalty and take the game to overtime, but couldn't find the winner.

Kompon scored first in the shoot-out before Blight and Sandrock both missed.

When Shields missed the Giants' third shot, it left Dolan with the chance to win the game and he beat Chubak to give Dundee the extra point.

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