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DeLuca at the double as Giants' title hopes take major hit with defeat to leaders Sheffield

Sheffield Steelers 4-1 Belfast Giants

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The Sheffield Steelers celebrate scoring against the Belfast Giants

The Sheffield Steelers celebrate scoring against the Belfast Giants

The Sheffield Steelers celebrate scoring against the Belfast Giants

Anthony DeLuca grabbed a double as the Belfast Giants lost further ground in the Elite League title race with a 4-1 loss to the Sheffield Steelers at the FlyDSA Arena.

The Steelers winger levelled things up at 6:31 of the first period after David Goodwin had put the visitors ahead with his 12th goal of the season, and then added the game-winner at just 12:49 of the second period when he finished five-hole on Giants netminder Shane Owen on the breakaway.

Belfast didn't help themselves, going an abysmal 0-for-6 on the powerplay, including passing up a 1:05 5-on-3 powerplay in the second period with the score at 2-1, while Tomas Duba added 29 saves for the hosts, who added insurance goals through Ben O'Connor and Brendan Connolly.

With the loss, the Giants now trail the Steelers by six points at the top of the standings with just nine games left to play in the regular season, their record now sitting at 26-16-3 after a disappointing one-point weekend following their 5-4 overtime loss to the Manchester Storm on Saturday.

It was another game where the Giants were blunt offensively, managing to out-shoot their hosts 30-27 but unable to make their statistical dominance count, losing the season series 2-4-0 to their rivals.

The Giants were forced into an early penalty kill when Bobby Farnham was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after just 44 seconds, but the visitors made the early kill before they took the lead.

It was excellent forechecking from Ben Lake that forced the turnover behind the Steelers net to create the opportunity, the centre putting the puck back in front for Goodwin to finish on the backhand for 1-0 at 5:17.

But the lead lasted just 1:14 as the Steelers produced an immediate response to tie it up at 1-1, Lucas Sandstrom just about keeping the puck in at the blue-line and dishing the pass to DeLuca in the right circle for the winger to snap home the one-timer past Owen - 23 saves on the night.

Belfast passed up two chances on the powerplay to retake the lead late in the first, Sheffield playing out a hooking call on Josef Hrabal before a holding minor on Patrick Mullen cut short Davy Phillips' boarding call.

Those powerplay issues persisted into the middle period, the Giants coming up empty-handed on an Aaron Johnson slashing call and almost giving up a shorthanded goal when a turnover from Ryan Lowney needed to be bailed out by a big save from Owen on Janne Kolehmainen.

The Steelers also couldn't capitalise on the man advantage when Kevin Raine was called for holding, but it would be they who would forge ahead at 12:49 of the second period, DeLuca pinching his second of the evening when Michael Davies sent him on the breakaway and he finished five-hole on Owen for 2-1.

Belfast had a massive chance to draw level when presented with a 1:05 5-on-3 powerplay - Aaron Brocklehurst (holding) and Johnson (hooking) in the box - but they couldn't connect and still trailed at the second intermission.

Indeed, once again it was Sheffield who had the better chance to score shorthanded, this time Tanner Eberle presented with a glorious opportunity one-on-one with Owen but he fired wide of the cage.

But the Steelers wouldn't pay for that wastefulness and instead doubled their lead 6:18 into the third, O'Connor smashing the slapshot from the blue-line that deflected off the skate of the unfortunate Curtis Hamilton and past Owen to make it 3-1.

The Giants had a late powerplay chance to pull themselves back into it, Brocklehurst called for tripping, but once more the special teams couldn't get the job done, and instead it was left to Connolly to round off the scoring with 3:57 remaining as he finished high glove side on Owen on the breakaway for 4-1.

The Giants are back in action next Friday when they welcome the Guildford Flames to the SSE Arena for the first of a seven-game stretch of home games as the season comes to a close.

Belfast Telegraph