Belfast Giants drop overtime thriller to Augsburg after late drama
Belfast Giants 2-3 Augsburger Panther (OT)
In a game of twists and turns from the first first minute to the last, the two crucial twists went against the Belfast Giants when they mattered most.
It looked like Bobby Farnham's goal with 1:02 remaining had made it two wins from two in the Champions League for the hosts in thrilling fashion, the winger batting Curtis Leonard's shot out of the air and past Augsburg netminder Markus Keller.
But it wasn't that easy. A lengthy video review saw the goal waved off by the referees for a high stick from Farnham - a contentious call to say the least - which sent it to overtime.
"I thought the length of time it took, it must have been a close one, but aside from that I don't know," said Giants head coach Adam Keefe of the disallowed goal, admitting he didn't see it at the time.
It took 31 seconds of the extra period for the game to end, and it was a cruel, cruel blow for the Giants as, with their skaters clearly tired, some lovely passing from the three Panthers skaters set up Matt Fraser for the winner.
The Canadian centre made no mistake with the perfectly placed wrister down to Shane Owen's glove side, handing the Germans the extra point and sending their 800-strong support mad in the stands.
In the aftermath it will feel like Belfast have just been hit with a brutal body blow, but on paper they still sit top of Group C despite the loss, tied with the Panthers and Swedish side Lulea on four points.
However, this was a game that they will feel they could have won and, maybe, will feel like they should have won.
"A bounce for either team and it could have been a different game," admitted Giants head coach Adam Keefe.
"The outcome is the way it is and we'll take some positives out of that."
The special teams were perhaps the key. Belfast's penalty kill finally found its feet after a patchy performance against Liberec, going 2-for-2, but the powerplay failed to spark.
Had the Giants taken even half of their chances on the man advantage then they could have been out of sight, but instead it went a paltry 1-for-7 and, on most occasions, barely threatened.
Ironically, though, it was where they had pulled level with just 2:36 remaining in the first, although it wasn't a typical powerplay goal - Liam Morgan feeding on a loose puck to Jordan Smotherman and his deflected shot banked over Keller's shoulder and in.
That had tied things at 1-1 after Fraser had put Augsburg ahead just 6:48 in, the Canadian benefiting from a favourable bounce down the boards to feed David Stieler, and the winger's hands were excellent to return the pass for Fraser to finish.
Owen had produced a sublime performance for the Giants, making 28 saves on 31 shots, and but for some big saves in the first period then the hosts would have gone in behind.
Instead, they were able to pull ahead at 12:09 of the second period when Patryk Wronka, continuing to impress, rifled one in from the left face-off dot after a good breakaway from the Giants' own zone.
One of the crucial powerplay misses was late in the second period, however, when Henry Haase took a four-minute penalty for elbowing and the hosts couldn't take advantage of it, and that would cost them.
Marco Sternheimer levelled it up just 3:18 into the third period when he stabbed in a scrappy play at the crease, ironically after another powerplay miss from Belfast, and then the drama of the final few moments played out.
It's inches that win you the big games. The Giants thought they had them this time, but, cruelly, Farnham's stick maybe was one too many inches over the bar.
"Adam has a great team out there, his team made it hard for us and it came down to the bounce of a puck. We were lucky that goal was called back," admitted Augsburg head coach Tray Tuomie.
"We battled and battled, which we had to to beat this team. It's not easy and it won't be easy the next time we play them, but it was a lot of fun here in Belfast."
Belfast are next in action when they travel to Liberec for what is set to be a fiery rematch against Bili Tygri Liberec on Thursday at 6.45pm UK time (7.45pm local).
Belfast Telegraph Digital