Cardiff Devils 3 Belfast Giants 0: The Belfast Giants saw their lead at the top of the Elite League cut to just a single point last night — and that will spark the real beginning of the battle for the title.
For the second time this season Doug Christiansen’s men fell to a defeat in Cardiff, with Devils’ Great Britain goaltender Stevie Lyle also shutting out his former team to claim a 3-0 win.
And that has allowed the Nottingham Panthers to move within touching distance of the summit, with a game in hand.
The Giants will be glad that they don’t have to return to the Welsh capital again this season, but there will be plenty of other crunch battles to come between now and the end of March as the fight for the Elite League crown starts to bubble up.
The Giants have been in outstanding form of late, despite a lengthy injury list which seems to have grown longer as Mark Garside sat out last night’s game, but the table hasn’t really had a true look about it.
Now that the fancied teams — Nottingham, the Sheffield Steelers, Coventry Blaze and Cardiff have almost caught up with each other in terms of games played, the race for the title will take a much clearer shape and realistically with nine points between them any of the top five teams are capable of becoming champions.
Christiansen started with Nathan Craze in goal and he was beaten by the first shot of the night as the Devils took the lead in the fourth minute of the game.
Max Birbraer and Scott Matska were involved in the move and it was Devils player-coach Gerad Adams who supplied the finishing touch.
The Giants rattled Lyle’s post before Cardiff doubled their advantage with a minute and a half of the first period to go.
Matska was again involved, supplying a pass to Stuart MacRae who in turn found Jon Pelle, who fired sweetly past Craze to clock up his 23rd goal of the season.
Brad Smyth caused problems for the Devils in the second period, but there was no way through and Craze had to be alert on a couple of Cardiff breakaways.
While the Giants powerplay wasn’t in-form, the penalty killing unit had to be in the third period, with Graeme Walton, Tim Cook and Dan Welch all spending time in the box and that restricted chances to claw back the 2-0 deficit.
With nothing to lose Christiansen went for broke with more than two minutes left, pulling Craze as he looked for a goal that would give his team a lifeline.
Birbraer took advantage to net Cardiff’s third with just half a minute to go.