Belfast Giants crowned Elite League champions as Cardiff fall to Coventry
In the most bizarre fashion, the Belfast Giants became Elite Ice Hockey League champions on Sunday night without playing a game.
But thanks to the Coventry Blaze's 3-1 victory over their nearest challengers the Cardiff Devils in their final game of the season, the Giants emerged top of the pile to be named champions.
The Giants, who had already completed their regular season schedule the night before with a 6-4 win over the Dundee Stars, entered the day tied on points with the Devils, meaning as long as the Welsh side took their game in Coventry to overtime then they would win.
However, Nicolai Bryhnisveen and David Clements put the hosts two up, before Sam Duggan's reply made it a one-goal game heading into the final period.
Blaze forward Thom Flodqvist saw a penalty shot hit the crossbar as the clocked ticked down, with the Devils then ringing the iron, but Ben Lake secured the victory with an empty net goal with only a few seconds remaining.
At the final buzzer, there was an eruption of cheers at the Crowne Plaza hotel at Shaw's Bridge where the Giants players were gathered for their end of season awards night as they celebrated becoming champions.
It's the side's first title win since 2014, back when head coach Adam Keefe was a player, and it's their second trophy of the season after winning the Challenge Cup last month.
In a back-and-forth title race, the Giants and Devils duelled throughout the season, with the defending champions at one point forging 11 points ahead in the standings after doing the double over Keefe's men at the end of January.
But a scintillating finish to the campaign, which saw the Giants go 19-4-1 in their final 24 games, helped them overcome their rivals at literally the final hurdle, winning on regulation wins - the Giants had 45, the Devils 43.
Belfast winger Darcy Murphy ended the season as the league's top scorer with 39 goals and 40 assists, good for 79 points in 58 games.
In an ironic twist, Coventry's win means they will now be the Giants' opponents in the quarter-finals of the Elite League play-offs next weekend, with Belfast going for a rare treble.
Belfast Telegraph Digital