Giants winning run halted abruptly in ill-tempered affair
Sheffield Steelers 5 Belfast Giants 1
The Belfast Giants' five-match unbeaten run came to a shuddering halt as they were beaten 5-1 by fellow title challengers the Sheffield Steelers.
The one-sided scoreline, however, doesn't tell the full story of a game in which the Giants out-shot their opponents 40-32.
Steelers goaltender Ervins Mustukovs proved the difference between the teams in what was, at times, an ill-tempered game with two fights and two players, the Giants David Rutherford and Sheffield's Guillaume Desbiens, thrown out of the game following an incident that led to the second period being brought to a premature end.
The Giants only gave up one powerplay opportunity in the first period, but they were made to pay for it as just 15 seconds after Chris Higgins was sent to the penalty box for a holding offence Mattheu Roy struck to open the scoring via a deflection.
The second period was littered with incidents and penalty calls, the first coming at 26:28 when Sheffield's David Phillips reacted to Mike Quesnele's holding offence and went toe-to-toe before spending the next five minutes cooling off.
The teams were back at full strength by the time Levi Nelson doubled the Steelers' lead from Robert Dowd's assist at 30:59, with the goal coming after a spell of pressure from the Giants.
The Steelers made it 3-0 six minutes later, on another powerplay. Ryan Martinelli was in the box for delaying the game and after surviving a minute and a half short-handed the Giants conceded as Jesse Schultz finished after Roy and Ben O'Connor set him up.
The second period ended 70 seconds early with Rutherford lying injured on the ice - but he wouldn't have been returning to the game anyway. Desbiens was deemed to have been guilty of charging, with Rutherford punished for a check to the head and as well as being ejected from the game. Both men are now facing possible suspensions.
When the game got under way again Schultz scored his second of the game at 49:47 to kill off any lingering hopes of a Giants comeback.
Even a fight between Giants Jim Vandermeer and Steelers Colton Fretter at 56:42 didn't have any impact on the momentum as 26 seconds later it was 5-0 thanks to O'Connor.
The Giants did get one back through Colin Shields at 57:42, but that was merely a consolation on a night when the outcome didn't match the performance.