Belfast Giants see Challenge Cup defence ended as rivals Cardiff Devils blank them again
Cardiff Devils 4-0 Belfast Giants (Agg: 5-0)
The Challenge Cup defence is over for the Belfast Giants and Adam Keefe's men were dethroned in more of a public execution than a royal succession.
For the second successive leg - and for the third time in their last five games - the Giants drew a blank in being shut-out 4-0 at the Viola Arena by the Cardiff Devils and crash out of the Challenge Cup at the quarter-finals 5-0 on aggregate.
And while the scoreline is as bad as it is, the fact that it could have been a lot worse but for the outstanding Shane Owen making 33 saves in the Belfast goal reflects just how much the Giants were second best in this game against their rivals.
The netminder had to scramble during the opening two periods to keep the hosts at bay, making a sublime triple save to deny Sean Bentivoglio, Gleason Fournier and Stephen Dixon in the first period especially, and was largely powerless to hold out the onslaught from their Welsh opponents.
Those grandiose memories of doubling up their rivals in their own building last month are now long forgotten for Belfast as the Devils utterly dominated the second leg, with Keefe's men barely able to fire a warning shot let alone score a goal in response.
In the second period alone the Giants had a dismal three shots on goal as their offense yet again collapsed around them, and by the time the final buzzer sounded they had been thoroughly out-shot to the tune of 37-20, emphasising the dominance of the Devils.
Even more concerning is the fact that the two teams meet again, this time in Elite League action, in Belfast on Saturday, and while the Giants can trot out the revenge motif ahead of that game, the Devils will no doubt be filled to the brim with confidence ahead of that meeting.
Bobby Farnham at least laid down a marker at the end of the game when he was ejected for a verbal exchange at the benches, while captain Matt Pelech led from the front by dropping the gloves with Mark Louis again, but ultimately it was all far too little, too late for the Giants.
The first goal was crucial with the tie delicately poised at 1-0 after the first leg, and when Ciaran Long headed off for a hooking call for Belfast, the Devils were lethal on the powerplay, some nice passing from Sean McMonagle and Sean Bentivoglio set up Stephen Dixon for the redirect on the doorstep at 8:47.
Had debut man Rickard Palmberg found the twine instead of redirecting Mark Garside's slap-pass straight at Ben Bowns then maybe things would have been different, but that, in many ways, summed up what was another increasingly frustrating night for the Giants' offense.
Bowns was barely made to work for his shut-out, only requiring to make 18 saves, and the visitors never came any closer than Palmberg's early effort, while at the other end the Devils were constantly forcing Owen into big stops.
The Canadian backstop was up quickly for those three successive stops on Bentivoglio, Fournier and Dixon before the sheer weight of shots finally took its toll and the hosts doubled their lead at 14:37 when Josh Batch flung the puck back in front for trail skater Sam Duggan to redirect in at the crease.
Belfast were 0-for-4 on the powerplay on the night and, even more worrying, was the fact the Devils' third came shorthanded on a lax play in their own defensive zone early in the second period, Masi Marjamaki reaching a loose puck first and setting Joey Martin in for the finish at 1:49 of the middle frame to make it 3-0.
Indeed, the middle frame was beset by penalties and ill-temperament, and Pelech dropping the gloves with Louis for the second straight week was as close as the Giants came to a response to Cardiff, while their rivals were happy simply to kill time where they could.
And it was Batch who rounded off the scoring at 16:12 of the second period, the centre getting the slightest tip on McMonagle's point shot to beat Owen five-hole for 4-0.
The Giants won’t have to wait long for their shot at revenge, however, as the two sides meet at the SSE Arena on Saturday (7pm) in an Elite League clash. But for now, they have to take the pain of this loss back to Belfast.
Belfast Telegraph Digital