Giants shrinking title dreams are hit for six
Cardiff Devils 6-2 Belfast Giants
Twenty four hours after giving themselves a lifeline in the race for the Elite League title, the Belfast Giants hopes of being crowned champions have been shattered.
Saturday night's 2-1 win over the Sheffield Steelers, coupled with the Cardiff Devils losing to Manchester Storm, gave the Giants some hope as they headed to Wales for the first of three league meetings between now and the end of the season,
A 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Devils - the Giants first loss in Wales this season - means that any realistic hope of taking the title are now over for the Giants, who must now regroup and try to overturn that result when they return to Cardiff for the Challenge Cup final this coming Sunday.
Needing to win all three of those remaining meetings with the Devils, the Giants - who were without Jim Vandermeer, David Rutherford and Darcy Murphy as well as their long-term injury victims - got off to a dreadful start when they found themselves behind with only 28 seconds on the clock.
Andrew Hotham looked up and found Sean Bentivoglio with a fine pass, giving him a simple task in beating Jackson Whistle to score at the far post.
The response from the Giants came within less than two minutes.
Jonathan Ferland and Jeff Mason made the chance and Matt Towe skated round the Cardiff defence before producing a neat finish that flew high into the net to level the scores at 2:10.
It was anyone's game at that stage, despite the Giants only registering three shots on goal during the first period, but the Devils ran away with it when they scored three goals in ten minutes during the second frame.
Two penalties in the space of ten seconds had the Giants defending a five-on-three, which they killed successfully, but just seconds after getting back to full strength Cardiff struck their second goal.
Bryce Reddick and Layne Ulmer did the work to carve out the chance for Justin Faryna to finish as the Devils got the go-ahead goal at 22:05 and just one minute 51 seconds later they were 3-1 ahead when Patrick Asselin sent Bentivoglio in and he bundled the puck into the corner of the net for his second of the game.
Asselin then got in on the goalscoring act himself when he netted the fourth on the 32 minute mark after pouncing on a rebound.
The Giants rallied and Cardiff goaltender Ben Bowns did well to deny Steve Saviano before a stunning shot from Spiro Goulakos after a defensive error in the Cardiff zone brought it back to 4-2 just before the 36 minute mark.
A penalty shot awarded after Joey Haddad had been impeded on his way to goal on 49 minutes gave the Devils the chance to restore their three-goal lead but Whistle managed to turn his effort away.
Cardiff didn't have to wait long before they got their fifth goal though when Haddad netted at 55:56, cracking home his shot from the top of the circles.
Knowing that only a victory would be enough Giants coach Adam Keefe called Whistle to the bench early as he went all out for the win, but Cardiff found the empty net through Matt Pope at 58:20 to ensure they would win the game - and most likely a second successive league title.