Belfast Giants 1 Cardiff Devils 4: The fortress is crumbling. Belfast Giants’ Odyssey Arena home, which was impenetrable for the first eight games of the season, has now been breached three times in the last six outings - and twice in succession.
And the Cardiff Devils’ 4-1 victory in Belfast last night — the heaviest defeat the Giants have suffered on home ice this season — was a double whammy for the Welsh side.
Not only did they throw a spanner in the works of Doug Christiansen’s side’s quest to claim the Elite League title, although they still hold on to first place in the table, the Devils have also catapulted themselves into contention for the crown as they are now second to the Giants thanks to three wins in as many nights since Christmas.
Former Giant Stevie Lyle stole the show with an excellent display of goaltending for the Devils and, with the visitors 4-0 to the good before he was beaten, the worrying statistic for Christiansen is that his team has failed to score in either of the first two periods for three successive games.
The Giants were under pressure from midway through the first period when Cardiff took the lead through Stuart MacRae as he finished off a move involving Sam Smith and Tylor Michel.
Cardiff proved how strong they are by out-shooting the Giants 11-9 in the first period — something that doesn’t happen often, least of all at the Odyssey — but they couldn’t add to that single goal.
The real damage was done in the second period as Cardiff scored twice to move into a comfortable lead which they never looked like surrendering.
Dan Welch was sitting out a tripping penalty which carried over from the first period as Cardiff doubled their advantage in the first minute of the second with a powerplay strike. Max Birbraer and Craig Weller claimed assists as Jon Pelle fired past Murphy.
Two minutes later the prolific Pelle was at it again. Birbraer was involved once more, linking up with Scott Matska and Pelle then netted his 32nd goal of a highly productive season.
Try as they might, the Giants just couldn’t find a way past Lyle with chance after chance going begging and the goaltender proving equal to everything that was thrown at him.
When Cardiff scored again with just six minutes remaining the game was up for the Giants. Typically, Pelle was involved in the build-up, with Ryan Finnerty supplying the telling pass to Matzka who made no mistake in adding to the Giants agony.
After failing to convert any of their other eight powerplay opportunities of the night, the Giants finally gave the 3,500 strong home support some consolation with just five minutes to go.
MacRae was off the ice for hooking when Welch set up Mike Bayrack to deny Lyle a shut-out in the dying moments of the game.
Christiansen’s men will enjoy a well deserved break this evening after three games on successive nights, but their minds will still be very much on the game, with a quick chance to get back on track when the Newcastle Vipers come to town tomorrow.