Despite a dramatic late fightback, two third period goals from the Cardiff Devils consigned the Belfast Giants to defeat in their opening Premier Sports Elite League game of the season as they were beaten 3-2 in a thriller at Ice Arena Wales.
After trailing for most of the game, the Giants had tied it up early in the third thanks to Cam Knight's first goal in teal, but they were undone by goals 4:02 apart as Brodie Reid's wicked one-timer and Cole Sanford's tip-in sealed the two points for the Devils.
That only tells half the story, though, as Mark Cooper made it interesting when he notched his second goal of the season with 1:53 remaining to make it a one-goal game again and Scott Conway hit the post with 32 seconds on the clock, but the Giants came up just shy in their league opener.
Head coach Adam Keefe got a strong start in goal from Tyler Beskorowany, the netminder making 27 saves and hard done by for the final two goals, but at the other end Mac Carruth was in sensational form for the Devils, turning away 27 of the 29 shots he saw in a massive outing.
A frustrating start to the campaign for Keefe's side, whose side go 0-1-0 at this early stage of the season, and he will hope they will provide a strong response in Sunday's Premier Sports televised game at the Coventry Blaze.
Perhaps most importantly he will be looking for them to show more of a killer instinct in front of goal, the Giants not short of speed or intent but they found it tough to carve out gilt-edged scoring chances until that final frame.
An early powerplay for the visitors - Andreas Valdix sitting for a hook on Ciaran Long - was notable only for that it was cut short when a stray puck hit referee Tom Pering in the head, although fortunately the official was able to continue on after some treatment.
It was the Giants who were creating all the offense in the first period, but it would be the Devils who would lead at the first intermission courtesy of a Brendan Mikkelson powerplay strike, Joshua Waller dishing the puck from the left to the right circle for the defenceman to supply the one-time finish for the 1-0 lead at 13:36.
Beskorowany needed to bail the Giants out on a couple of occasions in a relatively quietly second period, making a smart double save on Reid out in front in a period that saw Ben O'Connor (cross-checking) and Sam Ruopp (hooking) penalties go unpunished on the powerplay.
It was in the third that things livened up though, and the game became a contest again when Knight got on the board for the first time as a Giant just 4:50 after the restart, the defenceman wheeling around onto a loose puck and somehow squeezing it through Carruth's five hole for the leveller.
But just as soon as they were level, the Giants were behind again. Just 1:09 after Knight's equaliser, a face-off win fell back to Reid and the winger snapped the shot - which looked like it did take a deflection - over the shoulder of Beskorowany and into the net for 2-1.
And the game-winner came a second after the halfway point of the final frame, O'Connor firing a hopeful shot from the blue-line through traffic and another deflection, this time from Sanford, enabled the puck to elude Beskorowany and find the twine to make it 3-1 at 10:01 of the third.
The Giants played out a Mark Garside interference call to give themselves a lifeline, but it looked like their chance had passed them by when they couldn't connect on a late powerplay for a Josh Batch high-sticking minor and they still trailed by two with 2:49 left on the clock.
But with Beskorowany pulled for the extra skater, up stepped Cooper with 1:53 remaining, the winger finding space in the mid-slot and ripping a vicious wrister past Carruth to make it 3-2, and suddenly hopes were rekindled that an unlikely comeback was on.
They nearly completed it, too, Conway making space for himself on the angle and going for the top corner, but Carruth just about got a shoulder on the puck to deflect it onto the post and away, and in the end that proved enough to make sure the win would go the way of the hosts.