Giants' Challenge Cup defence comes to devilish end
Cardiff Devils 4-0 Belfast Giants
The Belfast Giants' Challenge Cup defence came to a brutal end at the quarter-final stage as they were shut-out for the second leg in a row by rivals the Cardiff Devils, losing 4-0 at the Viola Arena and crashing out 5-0 on aggregate.
GB international netminder Ben Bowns made just 18 saves to condemn the Giants to their third shut-out in their last five games and knock out the defending champions, who went out without so much as a whimper.
The Devils got their goals from four different scorers, with Stephen Dixon, Sam Duggan, Joey Martin and Josh Batch all getting on the scoresheet in a dominant win, which could have been a lot worse for Belfast but for the exceptional 33-save display of netminder Shane Owen.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the Giants knew that the first goal of the second leg would be crucial, but it would be the Devils who would get it when Ciaran Long took a hooking penalty and the hosts capitalised on the powerplay, Dixon redirecting in Sean Bentivoglio's centring pass at 8:47 for 1-0.
Owen made three big stops in a row to keep the scoreline down, but he was powerless to prevent the hosts making it 2-0 at 14:37 when Batch flung the puck back in front for Duggan to put in at the doorstep.
Even on their own powerplay the Giants were unable to prevent the relentless Cardiff waves as Martin made it 3-0 shorthanded at 1:49 of the second period after Masi Marjamaki effected the offensive zone turnover.
Frustrations then boiled over when Giants captain Matt Pelech and Devils defenceman Mark Louis dropped the gloves for the second week in a row after a big hit from Dixon left Paul Swindlehurst on the ice and the Belfast skipper took exception.
But that did nothing to fire up his team, and instead the Devils wrapped up the scoring at 16:12 of the middle frame, Batch diverting Sean McMonagle's point shot past Owen.
Frustrations boiled over late on as Giants winger Bobby Farnham was ejected for a verbal exchange at the benches, however by then it was too little, too late.
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.