Belfast Giants head to Continental Cup final despite Katowice loss
Belfast Giants 2-4 GKS Katowice
Despite dropping their first game in ten, the Belfast Giants are going to the Super Final of the Continental Cup after finishing in the top two of their semi-final group.
On the night they were beaten 4-2 by Polish side GKS Katowice, who will join them in the finals in January, snapping their winning streak at nine in disappointing fashion after they conceded four unanswered goals in the second and third periods.
In the end it wasn't a game that overly mattered, with the Giants assured in the knowledge that unless they lost by nine goals - which never looked remotely close to happening - they would safely progress at the expense of Medvescak Zagreb.
It was all Katowice in the early stages, dominating possession with their fast brand of hockey, however they weren't getting pucks on net for all the time they were spending in the Giants' zone.
And they paid for it, Josh Roach firing hopefully towards net from the blueline and the shot managed to deceive netminder Kevin Lindskoug and find the top corner of the net to give Belfast the lead at 9:50.
That was really as eventful as it got in a period with few clear scoring chances, with Hunter Bishop's drilled low shot nearly tipped into the net by the onrushing Dustin Johner.
Only 31 seconds into the second period Belfast doubled their lead, Blair Riley finding Darcy Murphy in space at the slot and he dragged it to the side before snapping a shot over the shoulder of Lindskoug.
Niko Tuhkanen had a great chance shorthanded when Grzegorz Pasiut found him completely alone on the doorstep but he was denied brilliantly by Tyler Beskorowany, who had barely been worked to this stage.
That changed when the Poles went on the powerplay and, after he made a sublime stop from Mikolaj Lopuski, the forward won the battle the second time, driving to the net and forcing it in five-hole at 31:14.
That was quickly followed by the goal of the game, a stunning passing move that involved Patryk Wronka and Lopuski, which set up Jesse Rohtla for the easy finish at 34:12.
But the Giants were on the back foot from the start of the third when Kevin Raine took a five-minute major penalty for kneeing, and although they nearly managed to kill it off, the visitors struck with 13 seconds of it to go, Lopuski forcing home his second at 44:29.
The visitors had their netminder to thank for keeping them ahead for the remainder of the game, Lindskoug stopping from Patrick Dwyer and Francis Beauvillier on breakaways to send the game into a nervy finish.
Kyle Baun hit the post, Roach just fired wide from the blueline and Lindskoug made an otherworldly stop to blank Baun again right at the doorstep, but ultimately they couldn't force the puck past the resolute Swede.
And when the puck broke out of the zone, defenseman Janne Laakkonen was first to it and he roared in delight as his shot found the now-vacated net by Beskorowany, giving his side a hard-fought win and sending both sides to January's Super Final.
Belfast Telegraph Digital