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Foster's heroics catapults Giants into Cup semi-final

By Stuart McKinley

Alex Foster struck with just eight seconds of overtime remaining at the SSE Arena to send the Belfast Giants into the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup. The dramatic late winner mirrored the previous 64 minutes, with Manchester taking a two-goal lead and then going 3-1 in front only to let it slip before ultimately suffering a heartbreaking defeat.

The Giants had to dig in and after two Chris Higgins goals in the third period took the game into an extra five minutes, Foster ensured that there would be no need for a nerve-racking penalty shoot-out.

That means the Giants will now face either the Cardiff Devils or Dundee Stars in a two-legged semi-final tie for the right to progress into the one-off final in March.

The Giants made a bright start, but they found themselves two goals behind as early as the eighth minute.

Storm's first goal came on a breakaway as Paul Phillips and Cody Cartier raced up the ice and set up Connor Varley to finish on the six-minute mark.

That goal gave Storm early momentum and just a minute and 43 seconds later they doubled their lead.

Cartier was involved again, this time linking a move between Matt Bissonnette and Taylor Dickin which saw the latter beat Stephen Murphy to give Storm a 5-3 aggregate lead.

The Giants were rattled, but they composed themselves and struck back just under four minutes later.

Matt Nickerson sent the puck up the ice, James Desmarais pulled it back from behind the net and Steve Saviano fired home.

Storm weren't about to let their good early work go to waste though and they were two goals to the good again at 13:43. This time it was Cartier who provided the finish after being set up by captain Trevor Johnson.

Things started to get a little feisty and after an altercation with Cartier, Giants forward Mike Forney was thrown out of the game five minutes from the end of the first period.

Another clash five minutes before the end of the second period saw Giants' Matt Towe and Storm's Varley hit with five-minute fighting penalties and an extra 10 minutes on top.

The third period didn't so much belong to the Giants, but rather Higgins.

Just 14 seconds in he snapped up the chance after David Rutherford set him up with a fine cross-ice pass.

He needed no help when he scored his second of the night. After picking up the puck in his own zone, Higgins skated forward past every Storm player that got in his way and left goaltender Mike Clemente beaten all ends up to set up a thrilling final 11 minutes.

That brought about overtime and if anything that was even more tense.

Neither team were willing to take too many risks, but when the Giants pushed for the game-winning goal as the clocked ticked towards zero, Foster hit the winner after player/coach Derrick Walser and Blair Riley had created the opportunity.

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