The Belfast Giants will have left themselves with a lot of work to do if they are to retain the Challenge Cup.
Steve Thornton’s men will have to score at least three times when they face the Cardiff Devils at the Dundonald Ice Bowl on January 20 after suffering a 5-2 defeat in the Welsh capital last night.
It could have been worse as Cardiff turned the tables on the Giants by vastly out-shooting them — particularly in the second period when the Devils fired 17 efforts on Stephen Murphy’s goal in the space of 20 minutes.
And to really rub it in, Devils captain Brad Voth, who amazingly was cleared to play in the game despite being hit with an automatic one-match suspension last weekend, which under league rules cannot be appealed.
It took until almost 15 minutes into the game for the breakthrough to come when Scott Romfo and new signing Ryan Finnerty linked up and Mark Smith fired Cardiff’s opener.
The Giants levelled on the powerplay as Romfo sat in the penalty box, but he returned to the ice to restore his team’s lead.
Seconds before the end of the first period Jeff Szwez and Cardiff Mike Hartwick went for each other and as players left the benches Giants’ Sean McMorrow
and Devils player-coach Gerad Adams got involved.
Voth looked to be in there too, but escaped a penalty, unlike the other four who started the third period by spending five minutes off the ice.
Tylor Michel stretched Cardiff’s lead shortly after the halfway mark and it was in the third period that the Devils really worked to give themselves and advantage to bring to Belfast.
Voth’s strike came 40 seconds into the final session and eight minutes later Max Birbraer made it a knap hand for the home side.
Szwez netted from Tom Walsh’s assist with five minutes to go and that goal could yet prove to be a valuable one for the Giants.
The task that they have been set, however, is a tough one and Thornton will now hope that he sees some of his injured players back on the ice in time to play a part in turning around the tie in the second leg.