Belfast Giants 2 Newcastle Vipers 3: The Belfast Giants post-Christmas record now reads, played four, won one, lost three as they ended their busiest period of the season so far with another defeat.
From being an injury ravaged team that displayed immense character in every game and putting in some amazing performances in the face of adversity, the Giants are now reeling from three losses inside a week.
They are still out in front in the Elite League standings, but last night’s 3-2 defeat at home to the Newcastle Vipers leaves Doug Christiansen’s team in a highly vulnerable position, with their three closest rivals, the Cardiff Devils, Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers, all having sufficient games in hand, which if they win will see them jump to the top of the table.
And for a team that prided itself on being strong at home, the Giants have now lost three in a row at the Odyssey Arena after suffering just one defeat in Belfast previously this season.
Even the return of Mike Hoffman wasn’t enough to inspire a Giants team that has had its confidence dented, although the tough guy did mark his comeback with a goal. The Vipers grabbed the initiative early in the game, scoring on the powerplay with just 80 seconds of the match played. Simon Lambert was punished for hooking and just seven seconds into the penalty Kyle Sibley found Mike Prpich, who opened the scoring.
The visitors doubled their advantage with just eight minutes gone. Sibley was involved again, this time sending a pass into Jaro Rzeszutko, who found Jamie Carroll and his shot beat Stephen Murphy in the Giants goal.
When John Schwarz was sent to the penalty box in the opening minute of the second period the Giants took full advantage. Lambert and Craig Peacock set-up the opportunity and Hoffman fired home his eighth goal of the season.
Shots rained in on Charlie Effinger’s goal, but it wasn’t until five minutes into the third period — on another power play — that they levelled the scores.
Josh Prudden and Brett Hemingway combined to provide Jon Gleed with the chance and his strike had the 3,800 home crowd believing that a comeback was on the cards. Those hopes were snuffed out with only five minutes to go. Carroll returned the favour as he supplied the pass to Rzeszutko and he sent the puck beyond Murphy’s grasp.
Christiansen pulled Murphy in favour of an extra skater with over a minute to go, but to no avail as overtime eluded his team.
The Vipers now join the Giants in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup after their victory, while for the Belfast men they now prepare for Sunday’s home game against the Hull Stingrays in the hope that their slump can be halted.