Giants' offense falls flat again as Stars steal shock win in Cup
Belfast Giants 3-4 Dundee Stars
If there were concerns over a lack of a finishing touch with the Belfast Giants, tonight's defeat only highlighted it further.
Despite outshooting the Dundee Stars by an almost unbelievable 68-18 scoreline, it was the visitors who emerged with the 4-3 win in an incredible smash-and-grab result at the SSE Arena.
Stars forwards Kevin Dufour and Anthony Beauregard shared the goals equally between them in the shock result, while they also had the phenomenal 65-save performance of netminder Alex Leclerc - who wasn't even named in the initial line-up - to thank for the win.
Brian Ward grabbed his fifth goal of the season for the Giants, while Curtis Hamilton added his fourth, but ultimately there are still plenty of questions hanging over this Giants offense after this performance, which sees them drop to 1-1-0 in the Challenge Cup.
"Taking that third goal away from us, we scored two goals, and if you look at three of the four games we've lost this year, we've scored one goal. It's got to start with that, we need more offense," said head coach Adam Keefe.
Once again the powerplay was a glaring weakness for the Giants, going a dismal 0-for-7 on the night and giving up two shorthanded goals, the first of which was the opening goal in the first period, Dufour grabbing his first on the man disadvantage.
With Drydn Dow in the box for tripping, the Stars winger was the benefactor of Elgin Pearce's breakaway, his line mate dishing the puck across to him and he applied the smart finish past Shane Owen - 14 saves - at 13:32.
"You can't go minus-one on your special teams, so it's back to the drawing board there," added Keefe.
Hamilton had tied it up with his fourth of the season when he rapped home a nice shot from the right circle that beat Leclerc five hole at 10:30 of the second thanks to an excellent screen out front by Liam Reddox, although by that stage the home side had already had 34 shots on the Stars netminder.
"We had the puck the whole game, but when they play that high trap defense you don't get a lot of quality chances. The ones we gave them were grade A chances and they made the most of it," said Hamilton.
"We need to go to the net more and be a bit more assertive. With a bit more of that we should be okay."
It was Dufour who had restored Dundee's lead after Hamilton's equaliser too, the Canadian striking on the powerplay this time - with Matt Pelech off for hooking - as he outpaced the Giants' defense at the blue-line to get in on Owen, applying the finish high over the netminder's shoulder 16:57 into the second.
The lead only lasted 41 seconds as the Giants pulled level again, Jordan Smotherman forcing the turnover behind the net, feeding Patryk Wronka and he in turn played it back out in front for Ben Lake to snap home the one-timer on the doorstep to draw level again.
The penalty kill, at least, was the half of the special teams that continues to flourish for the Giants, going 4-for-5, and when it came up with two big kills towards the end of the second period - Brian Ward for holding - and at the start of the third - Liam Morgan for slashing - it set up a big finish.
But once again in the final period it was Owen who was forced to come up with the bigger saves and, after he had denied Pearce on the breakaway, he was beaten again when Beauregard got his first at 11:18 of the final stanza, the center applying a beautiful dangled finish on another breakaway.
With time running out, and with Jordan Cownie heading off for a slashing call late on, Belfast were aggressive in pulling Owen with 2:25 remaining to force a 6-on-4 powerplay, but when the puck was turned over in the offensive zone, Beauregard sent it the length of the ice for the game-winning empty-netter.
It meant that even when Ward notched his fifth of the season with 17.3 seconds to go, his seeing eye shot deceiving Leclerc and beating him five hole again, to make it a one-goal game, it was too little, too late.
"The bouncebackability is tomorrow," added Keefe. "We need to have a good effort. We know we're a good team when we perform, so it's a good chance for us to bounceback tomorrow."
The Giants return to action tomorrow afternoon (4pm) in an Elite League clash against the Nottingham Panthers (2-1-0).
Belfast Telegraph Digital