Unlucky 13 for Belfast Giants in Sheffield
Sheffield Steelers 4 Belfast Giants 3: The Belfast Giants’ Elite League title hopes were dealt a major blow last night as their 12-match winning run was brought to an end by the Sheffield Steelers.
They had won 12 successive league games since a defeat on their last visit to Sheffield in late January, to get back into the thick of the battle for the Elite League crown. That run has come to an end and all the Giants can do now is hope that their title ambitions haven’t ended too.
The Steelers’ victory, in a seven-goal thriller at Ice Sheffield, has put them in pole position with three games to go, while the Giants now need a favour.
A mini-slump for the Steelers, which saw them lose three games on the trot before last night, had opened the door for the Giants.
Both teams had the title destiny in their own hands, but Sheffield’s 4-3 victory means that is no longer the case.
Even with a game in hand over the Steelers, the Giants need a favour after falling three points behind Ben Simon’s team last night.
In order to have any chance of winning the league the Giants must first of all win all of their four remaining games and then hope that both Sheffield and the Cardiff Devils — who are a point better off than the Belfast men with the same number of games played — stumble and quickly.
It’s not an ideal situation for Giants coach Doug Christiansen and his men, but they won’t give up.
The term ‘title fight’ rang true as the Steelers and Giants went to war, with Simon Lambert involved in some roughing in the first period followed by the more familiar sight of Mike Hoffman challenging the reluctant Kevin Bolibruk in the third.
Joey Talbot was credited with the Steelers first goal — on the powerplay — just before the midway point of the first period, but
it owed a lot to a mix-up between Giants goaltender Stephen Murphy and one of his defencemen.
A period of Giants pressure from the high-shooting Giants — who out-shot Sheffield by a massive 18-6 in that first period — was overturned by the Steelers as they doubled their lead in the 18th minute through Jeff Legue.
The goals may have been spread out over a period of almost 20 minutes, but the Giants then fought back to grab the lead.
A lead that would have seen them top the table had it have been held.
The Hemingway brothers were heavily involved with, first, Colin pulling one back, five minutes into the second period and, then, Brett scoring, two minutes into the second to level up the scores — on powerplays.
When Michael Jacobsen put the Giants in front, two minutes later, the Steelers’ grasp on the control of the title race was loosening.
The goal that is likely to have a major impact on that race came with six minutes to go — yet another powerplay.
Jason Hewitt struck the puck past Murphy to spark wild celebrations from the Sheffield players on the ice and the fans off it.
Even if the Giants had been able to force the game into overtime, the extra point would have given them a chance of doing things on their own, but that opportunity has now gone.