Giants lack a clinical edge as hopes of cup final are blown away
The Belfast Giants' Challenge Cup hopes were blown away by the Cardiff Devils last night as the Welsh side strolled into the final thanks to a comfortable win at the SSE Arena.
Despite carrying a one-goal advantage into the game from last week's first leg, the Giants' performance wasn't matched by goals and they ended up on the wrong end of a 5-1 defeat.
The Devils will now meet either the Nottingham Panthers or Sheffield Steelers in the final.
Cardiff took the lead on the night with only five minutes on the clock through Patrick Borderleau to level the tie and then went ahead thanks to Mark Louis.
It wasn't until the second period, however, that they really took control with two goals in little more than three minutes, with Louis and Chris Jones on the mark.
Although Chris Higgins pulled one back for the Giants soon after, the gap was just too big to close and Matthew Myers made sure of Cardiff's passage to the final in the third period.
Both teams created early chances, with the Devils coming closest when the puck rattled the pipes after beating Giants goaltender Jackson Whistle.
They grabbed the goal that wiped out the Giants' first-leg advantage at 5:13. Whistle had just made a big save when Borderleau sent in a shot that had him beaten all ends up after Mark Richardson shot goalwards.
Borderleau's involvement in the game lasted only seven minutes more after he became involved in an incident with Giants captain Adam Keefe.
Keefe reacted angrily to a hit on team-mate Jonathan Boxill and fought the Cardiff forward. Both men were sent to the penalty box for five minutes, with Borderleau thrown out for what was deemed a check to the head.
The Giants piled forward during the five-minute powerplay that followed and Mike Forney could have levelled on the night but missed a gilt-edged chance.
They were made to regret that when Cardiff returned to full strength and Louis gave them the aggregate lead.
The Giants killed an early second-period penalty, but were relieved to see Louis' shot clip the pipes.
Then came the two quick-fire goals that effectively won the tie for the Devils.
Louis grabbed his second of the night at 31:14 after skating through the Giants defence and after creating another couple of decent chances, Cardiff scored again when Joey Haddad set up Jones, who rifled the puck high into the net at 34:21.
The Giants reacted by taking Whistle out of the firing line and putting Stephen Murphy in goal.
It was at the other end, however, that the Giants needed a response and they duly got it two minutes later.
Player-coach Derrick Walser himself got things going with a pass onto Higgins' stick and the latter finished superbly.
That was the trigger for the Giants to really up their game and they ramped up the pressure, particularly on a powerplay when Sean Bentivoglio was sent to the box for a tripping offence, but Devils goaltender Ben Bowns was in top form.
The second period shot count of 18-8 in favour of the Giants reflected the way play had gone and it was the same in the third.
Chance after chance came the Giants' way, but there were no goals at the end of it and when Myers struck at 52:39 to make it 9-6 on aggregate, there was simply no way back.