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Giants lose ground in title race as Carr, Panthers shut them out again in Nottingham

Nottingham Panthers 4-0 Belfast Giants


Brian Ward battles against the Nottingham Panthers (William Cherry/Presseye)

Brian Ward battles against the Nottingham Panthers (William Cherry/Presseye)

William Cherry/Presseye

Brian Ward battles against the Nottingham Panthers (William Cherry/Presseye)

With their eighth shutout of the season - a team record - and one of their most abject performances of the campaign, the Belfast Giants' unlikely Elite League hopes look as remote as ever.

All the promise of Saturday's victory over the Manchester Storm on their return from the break was washed away in the Giants' submissive 4-0 loss to the Nottingham Panthers at the Motorpoint Arena on Sunday, the visitors coming off second-best in practically every facet of the game.

Adam Keefe's men were outscored by a goal in five-on-five play, conceded twice on their penalty kill - which had an off-night in running 2-for-4 - and even gave up a shorthanded goal on their toothless 0-for-4 powerplay to compound matters.

Indeed, how poorly the Giants played was reflected in that the game-winning goal came just 62 seconds into the game when Adam Deutsch was left completely unmarked at the back-door and snapped in the one-timer from Georgs Golovkovs' excellent feed for an early Panthers lead.

Things got no better after that, with the Giants two down at the first intermission thanks to Jullian Talbot's powerplay strike, and the visitors tallying a paltry three shots in the middle frame as Mathieu Tousignant and Dylan Malmquist piled on the misery in making it 4-0.

With the defeat, the Giants fall to 25-15-2 on the season and lose ground to the Panthers in the title race which, with performances like this, looks to be a pipe dream for Adam Keefe's side, who looked like a shadow of the team that overcame the Storm only a night prior.

Starting goaltender Shane Owen was chased from the game at the second intermission having made just 17 saves, with back-up Stephen Murphy contributing a further nine stops in the final frame in relief.

On the other side, Kevin Carr turned away all 27 shots he faced in keeping his second shut-out against the Giants this season, while his offense could have made it considerably worse had Danny Fick and Malmquist again not seen shots come back off the frame of the net.

Captain Matt Pelech at least tried to spark something for the Giants at 3-0 down when he dropped the gloves with opposite skipper Guillaume Lepine, but by then it was already too little too late for the Giants, who even had the frustration of seeing a potential Liam Morgan goal chalked off by video review with just three minutes remaining, as if to rub salt into the wounds.

The writing had been on the wall for the Giants after just 1:02 of the first period, Nottingham bursting out of the blocks much brighter and Golovkovs executing a sensational pass to the back door for the unmarked Deutsch to tap in for 1-0.

Going behind seemingly did nothing to spark Belfast into action either as Nottingham continued their offensive onslaught, and the Giants' special teams had to scramble superbly to kill off two penalties - and 33 seconds of 5-on-3 time - as David Goodwin (high sticks) and Patrick Mullen (hooking) both headed to the box.

They weren't so good at the third time of asking. When Pelech flipped the puck over the boards in his own zone, the Panthers connected on their third powerplay of the period, Talbot slamming one in from the high slot at 12:13 to double their lead.

At the other end, the Giants were not as profitable on their own powerplay when Lepine was called for slashing, and the visitors headed in at the first intermission following a heated exchange between Bobby Farnham - who had earlier been incensed at a lack of a call behind the Panthers net - and the officials.

The Giants had hoped an early roughing call on Ryan Horvat in the middle period might lead to something getting started, but instead all it led to was the Panthers furthering their lead, Tousignant smashing in a one-timer from the right circle for the shorthanded tally to make it 3-0 just 4:20 into the second.

Another powerplay passed the Giants by when Sam Herr's holding minor went unpunished before Pelech and Lepine dropped the gloves at centre ice, battling to a fairly even conclusion, which also yielded a slashing call on the former to put Belfast on the kill again.

And it was with the man advantage that the Panthers rounded off the scoring at 15:51 of the second period, Malmquist cutting in from the angle and roofing the puck shortside on Owen for the hosts' fourth of the afternoon.

Keefe switched out Owen for Murphy in order to give their starter a period off having been given little support from his defencemen, with the Scot making one sensational pad save to deny Jordan Kelsall in a period where he was left relatively untroubled as the Panthers coasted home.

Carr's shutout bid had one late scare when Morgan's shot came back off the post, sending the officials to the box to review it, but the video angles confirmed the puck had not crossed the line, ensuring the goalie would finish the game unbeaten and ending a dismal night for Belfast.

The Giants are back in action on Wednesday night when they travel to the Guildford Flames for their final game at the Spectrum this season.

Belfast Telegraph