Belfast Giants fall short in Grand Slam bid as Cardiff Devils claim play-offs
Belfast Giants 1-2 Cardiff Devils
They gave it a valiant effort, but ultimately the Belfast Giants fell one hurdle short of completing a domestic clean sweep on the season.
Gleason Fournier's goal 7:33 from time was the difference, handing the Cardiff Devils a 2-1 win in the Elite League Play-Off Final at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham and ending the Giants' Grand Slam dreams.
Having already won the Elite League regular season title, the Challenge Cup and the Erhardt Conference, the Giants only needed to add the play-off crown to their trophy cabinet to cap a phenomenal season, only to lose their final game.
After falling behind in the first period to Mike Hedden's strike, the Giants battled back in the third to tie it up through Kevin Raine, only to see Fournier exact the perfect revenge for their league title agony late in the final period.
The defenceman was dished the backhand pass by Matt Pope on a rush into the zone, taking it at pace and pulling a beautiful move at the crease to beat Giants netminder Tyler Beskorowany five-hole for the game-winner.
It was a bad-tempered game after things soured early in the first period thanks to a heavy hit on Giants leading scorer Darcy Murphy by Drew Schiestel, a hit that knocked Murphy out of the game briefly before he returned late in the opening stanza.
That only set up a fiery encounter, with the Giants adding a physical edge after that, but in the end they only had themselves to blame for not at least sending it to overtime having had no shortage of chances to grab a winner.
Finishing 0-for-5 on the powerplay for the game tells its own story, although a simply larcenous save from Ben Bowns - who made 34 saves on 35 shots in the Devils goal - denied Jordan Smotherman a certain second period strike after Kyle Baun's reverse pass across the crease on the man advantage.
Belfast did beat the Cardiff goaltender once, Raine's shot finally finding the twine at 10:03 in the third to tie it up, but the Grand Slam chasers couldn't find that telling goal, first to forge ahead and then to force overtime after Fournier's winner.
They struck the iron twice in the second period, Patrick Dwyer seeing his shot ricochet away off the upright from a tight angle before Colin Shields thundered one off the left stick with a cannon from the right circle.
Mike Hedden had put the Devils ahead at 16:32 in the first, the Giants having just killed off a five-on-three penalty that saw Baun (tripping) and Smotherman (interference) in the box, only to see a blocked pass set the Cardiff winger on a breakaway, which he buried shortside on Beskorowany.
Belfast did put plenty of pressure on Bowns in the closing stages as they flooded the crease in an attempt to get the puck in, but to no avail. The Devils celebrated as the Giants' hopes of the clean sweep evaporated.
Belfast Telegraph Digital