Cruel ending as Giants go down in Cup final drama
Arlan Kokshetau 3 Belfast Giants 2
In a Continental Cup final that seemed like all the bounces were going the Belfast Giants' way, to lose it was cruel in the extreme.
The Giants' hopes of landing the silverware were dramatically dashed as they lost a penalty shootout against Kazakhstan side Arlan Kokshetau.
It was a real sting in the tail for the home side who showed great resilience.
Netminder Tyler Beskorowany came up big in the second period to keep the deficit at two.
Chris Higgins and Dustin Johner tied it up in the third. The Giants made a big penalty kill at the end of regulation and again in overtime to take it to penalty shots.
Even in the shootout, facing defeat, Johner struck again with the final shot to take it to sudden death.
But fate refused to smile on them one more time.
Yevgeni Gasnikov beat Beskorowany for the second time in a heartbreaking shootout loss for the Giants.
That it was even as close as it was is a testament to the resolve of the Giants, who had struggled to break down the resolute Kazakh defensive system for the majority of the game, only to bring it level in the third.
But in the end it wasn't to matter, Gasnikov settling the tie in the toss-up that is penalty shots and earning them the trophy.
"It's a tough pill to swallow," admitted Giants head coach Adam Keefe. "But I'm pleased with the fightback in the third period because they were a really solid team defensively.
"We had a couple chances to end that game in regulation and in overtime as well and it speaks volume of that dressing room.
"It's valuable experience for our club, to play in that pressure cooker situation of playing in a one-off game for a championship and the situations that arose, that's valuable experience.
"It's a learning curve for us but hopefully we take that pain and apply it to the rest of the season."
That it ended in the way it did was incredible given the way the game went in the first period.
Belfast were on top for most of it but somehow they didn't take the lead. Then defenceman Sergei Yegorov had the shot from the blueline, Beskorowany lost the puck in traffic in front of the net and the visitors had the lead at 11:51.
It was two at the first intermission, the Giants' defence leaving two men free at the crease at 18:08 and it was Vadim Yermolayev who got the final touch on Vladimir Malevich's shot to divert it past Beskorowany. That Arlan weren't out of sight by the end of the second period was solely down to Beskorowany, the imposing backstop saving from Vladislav Kolesnikov, Dmitri Potaichuk and Ivan Kiselyov to keep the deficit at two.
Arlan came out in the third willing to soak up pressure from the Giants and, although initially they looked solid at the back, the onslaught told from the hosts.
Chris Higgins pulled one back at 47:44 when he jammed home the puck after Poloshkov couldn't hold Kyle Baun's initial shot, and then Johner lifted the roof off the SSE Arena when his low drive beat the netminder at 48:56.
But the drama didn't end there. Jonathan Ferland took a hooking call and Baun skied the puck over the boards for a delay of game penalty and all of a sudden the Giants had a five-on-three to kill with five minutes to play.
Stanislav Borovikov hit the post but a brilliant defensive display saw the hosts hold on and send it to overtime.
Jim Vandermeer should have won it in the extra period, however he couldn't beat Poloshkov in a one-on-one, and any hope of the Giants avoiding the shootout ended when Higgins took a penalty.
Belfast did kill it off, but that only sent it to the dreaded shootout where Gasnikov was Arlan's hero.