Giants finish as runners-up after Cardiff victory
Cardiff Devils 3-5 Belfast Giants
The Belfast Giants secured the runners-up spot in the Elite League - an improvement of two places on last season - after a 5-3 win over the Cardiff Devils in Wales last night.
Goals from Colin Shields, Blair Riley, Chris Higgins, Ryan Martinelli and James Desmarais helped the Giants to a comfortable win after they had led 2-0 and 4-1 after a scoreless opening 20 minutes.
Derrick Walser's side had lost 4-3 to the newly-crowned champions 24 hours earlier and needed to win the rematch to guarantee finishing in second place in the standings.
Earlier last night, the Sheffield Steelers defeated Coventry Blaze 4-1 to move into the runners-up position in the table but the Giants leapfrogged the deposed champions an hour or so later.
Although their title hopes had been ended last weekend, the Giants still have one last chance of lifting a trophy as they prepare for the end-of season play-offs in which they will now face the Fife Flyers following last night's win.
The first period was a relatively tame affair with the Giants out-shooting their opponents 11-5, without being able to find a way to beat the Devils' second-choice netminder Thomas Murdy, who was standing in for regular goalie Ben Bowns.
The Giants had an early powerplay opportunity when Scott Hotham was called for slashing but they were unable to make the extra man count and then they killed a penalty of their own after Brandon Benedict was sent to the box for interference on 13:02.
The game burst into life, however, within two minutes of the restart when the Giants broke the deadlock through veteran forward Shields, who sent the puck into the net unassisted.
Three minutes later, the Giants doubled their lead when, after good work by Desmarais and Higgins, Blair Riley put more daylight between the teams.
But Cardiff pulled a goal back at 28:41 on a powerplay as they made full use of the man-advantage when Layne Ulmer beat Stephen Murphy after being set up by Patrick Asselin and Joey Haddad.
The Giants then restored their two-goal lead four minutes before the end of the second period when Higgins netted to make it 3-1 after assists from Desmarais and Riley.
In the fourth minute of the final period, the visitors extended their advantage as Martinelli added goal number four after being set up by Mark Garside and Benedict.
With just over nine minutes left, the Devils reduced the deficit to 4-2 after Matthew Myers fired home after good approach play from Sean Bentivoglio, who had scored a hat-trick in Saturday night's win, and Hotham.
Ulmer got his second of the night with 50 seconds left before Desmarais sealed the win near the end.