Belfast Giants' title hopes hit as Moffat hat-trick seals Storm success
A hat-trick from Luke Moffat gave the Manchester Storm a deserved 6-3 victory at the SSE Arena as the Belfast Giants dropped points at home in the Elite League.
The visitors opened up a three goal lead in the first period that they never surrendered as they closed the gap to Belfast in the league table to just a point, while the Giants missed a chance to claw back some ground on the league-leading Cardiff Devils, now nine points clear.
Starting in goal for the hosts was Jackson Whistle, while Manchester opted for everyday man Mike Clemente at the other end.
It took the visitors four minutes to take the lead on the powerplay, a fantastic cross-ice pass from Mike Hammond putting Moffat in on Whistle, and the forward charged the net from the right circle before finishing backhanded for his first at 4:40.
Giants forward Brendan Connolly had a great chance to level for the hosts, firing well over from the slot, and he was made to rue that when Manchester doubled their lead at 9:04 as Scott Pitt rounded off a perfectly executed two-on-one with Matt Beca.
Just 41 seconds later they had their third, defenseman Matt Stanisz finding the twine from the left circle after reacting quickest to a rebound from a Beca shot, forcing Belfast head coach Adam Keefe into calling a timeout.
It didn’t improve matters much, with his side only testing Clemente five times in a poor first period, while the Storm could have had a deserved fourth when Whistle blanked Moffat in a one-on-one after bursting out of the penalty box late in the period.
Whatever Keefe said at the interval worked as, despite being on the penalty kill, the Giants struck at 22:04, Darcy Murphy taking the turnover into the offensive zone and finishing five hole on the backhand.
But defensively Belfast were still suspect, and on the same powerplay the Storm hit their fourth in controversial fashion, the dangerous Moffat again bettering Whistle in a one-on-one at 22:47, however the forward looked a long way offside as the play developed.
The second period was marred by a myriad of penalties to both sides, however there were chances at either end to grab goals at the Giants saw a shot just roll past the net before Dane Byers was denied from close range by Whistle.
That simply prefaced the scoring to follow, and it was David Rutherford who started it off for the Giants by scoring twice while four-on-four, firstly from a tight angle at 32:02 after bringing it back from behind the net before then tipping in a pass from Spiro Goulakos at the backdoor at 32:47.
Going in one goal behind at the second intermission would have been a good outcome for the hosts, however it wasn’t to be as Manchester added their fifth at 34:24, Ryan Trenz rifling home off the crossbar after being set up by Beca.
The third period was another one plagued by penalties on both sides, Shane Bakker the criminal offender for the Storm while the home bench were become increasingly incensed by some calls against them.
The end result saw the visitors with a 5-on-3 advantage and they made all of it at 51:59, the puck breaking to the excellent Moffat at the left faceoff spot, and his shot took a wicked deflection off a Giants stick to fool Whistle and find the twine for his hat-trick.
With the three-goal lead the game very much fizzled out from that point, Belfast unable to make the most of a couple of late powerplays in a game where they were very much second best.
Man of the Match: Luke Moffat (Manchester Storm)
Belfast Telegraph Digital