Hat-trick hero Dufour leads Stars to shock win in Belfast as Giants hit for six
Belfast Giants 3-6 Dundee Stars
The Belfast Giants seemingly can't work out the Dundee Stars conundrum at home this season as they lost for the third time to their Scottish rivals at the SSE Arena on Monday night.
In a battle of the special teams in Belfast, it was the Stars' superior 2-for-4 powerplay that led them to an impressive 4-3 win over Adam Keefe's side, who saw their own powerplay fall flat at 0-for-3.
Stars forward Kevin Dufour will take all the plaudits though for a hat-trick as he grabbed the visitors' opener and then added two empty-netters to seal his treble, and the win for his side, late on in a massive victory for the Elite League's basement dwellers in Belfast.
The hosts had their chances, and the fact they rang the pipes four times across the three periods proves how close they came to forcing overtime, but ultimately it was Matt Marquardt's low wrister on the powerplay with 10:08 remaining of the final period that settled it.
Matt Carter also found the twine on the man advantage at 13:09 of the opening period for the visitors, who ended Belfast's hopes of making it four wins on the bounce for the first time since early November and lead the season series between the two sides 4-3.
With the defeat, the Giants fall to 17-10-2 on the season and the good work done in doubling up the Glasgow Clan on their return from the Christmas break has been undone with this costly home loss that leaves them still four points adrift of the Sheffield Steelers in the Elite League standings with only one game in hand.
"We don't have any choice but to let this one go. I hope this stings the guys," said head coach Keefe.
"If you're a team with championship aspirations - and we do, those players have said they do - you've got to win these games at home, pure and simple. Now we have our work cut out for us."
The Giants did get two assists from Liam Reddox in the game, while Shane Owen stood tall in making 26 saves in what was ultimately a losing effort for the hosts, with new man Elgin Pearce seeing his scoring streak snapped at four games for Belfast.
The home side had led too, and it took them just 5:00 to pull ahead as David Goodwin netted his third goal in two games as Jordan Smotherman's forecheck behind the Stars goal forced the turnover, and he flung it back in front for the winger to finish past Alex Leclerc in the Dundee net, who ultimately finished with 31 stops.
The lead lasted just 1:38, however, and it was slack defence from the hosts that let the Scots level it up.
With the penalty going against them, the Giants seemed to switch off in anticipation of the play being blown dead and in a messy play at the crease, Dufour was able to turn it home for 1-1 with his first of the night.
Twice the Giants rang the iron as they went for the go-ahead goal, Goodwin's redirect pinging the post and then Curtis Hamilton's deflected effort crashing off the crossbar, while the Belfast powerplay failed to function when Marquardt took a slashing minor.
And they paid when they fell behind at the first intermission, Stars winger Carter firing through traffic from the top of the right circle and past the unsighted Owen to find the twine at 13:09 for 2-1.
There was concern for Reddox late in the first when the winger blocked a shot which ended with him needing treatment on the ice and took him out of the rest of the period, but in the end it was he who created the leveller just 2:58 into the middle frame.
Taking the puck along the goal-line, Reddox threw the pass to the crease for Bobby Farnham, who was crashing the net, and his line-mate got the crucial touch to take it past Leclerc for 2-2.
"Just a scare, took a puck to the chest and got winded," reported Reddox after the game. "It felt okay after the docs looked at me."
It seemed like it was going to be a night of wasted opportunities when Rickard Palmberg hit the Giants' third post of the game as another powerplay chance went begging with Craig Gans off for tripping.
But the hosts did go back ahead at 13:53 of the second period when Reddox once again found the perfect pass to the back door, this time seeking out Patrick Mullen for the defencemen to put in the one-timer for 3-2.
"I thought offensively we were good. We were up against a hot goaltender and we put three on him, so that shows we were good enough," added Keefe.
"Defensively we just weren't willing to commit to it and we got out-competed. That's disappointing."
It would be a tie game at the second intermission, though, and when the Giants ran into penalty trouble, the Stars were clinical.
Although Belfast managed to play out a 28-second 5-on-3 with Goodwin (tripping) and Ryan Lowney (slashing) in the box, they couldn't hold on for the whole time they were a man down and Carter's pass found Colton Kroeker for the powerplay marker at 18:55 to make it 3-3.
Dufour had a huge chance to put the visitors ahead early in the final frame when he worked a breakaway down the boards, but Owen proved equal to his backhanded effort at the crease.
When the Giants ran into penalty trouble again midway through the period, however, the visitors once again proved to be too good on the man advantage for the Giants to deal with.
It took them until seven seconds remaining of Bobby Farnham's tripping call, but they made it count, Marquardt walking in from the right circle and firing low through traffic and past Owen at 9:52 of the third period for the go-ahead goal at 4-3.
The contrast between the Giants' fortunes and the Stars' was made even more painfully obvious when, with Gans back in the box for hooking, Palmberg rang one off the crossbar for the second time, the Giants' fourth of the game.
That was about as good a demonstration of how the game went. With Owen pulled for the extra skater, Dufour was able to find the vacated cage twice to complete his hat-trick in emphatic style and condemn the Giants to their first defeat in four.
"Our defensive game wasn't where we need it to be. We lacked detail in certain areas where, if you don't have it throughout a game, teams are going to make you pay, and that's what Dundee to us," moaned Reddox.
The Giants will at least get their chance at a quick revenge mission when they go to Dundee on Thursday night for an Elite League rematch at the Dundee Ice Arena (face-off 7pm).
Belfast Telegraph Digital