Returning Rutherford fires Giants to summit
Cardiff Devils 3-3 Belfast Giants
David Rutherford marked his return to the Belfast Giants by firing the team to the top of the Elite League table thanks to a shoot-out victory over the Cardiff Devils.
It was only this time last week that Adam Keefe tempted the 30-year-old Canadian out of retirement and Rutherford showed just why the Giants coach wanted him back in a teal jersey in only his second game back.
With the teams locked at 3-3 after a thrilling regulation 60 minutes - the Giants levelling just five seconds from the end - as well as a nervy extra five minutes of four-on-four overtime it meant a penalty shoot-out was needed to separate the teams and after nine misses Rutherford was perfect with the 10th to give the Giants the extra point.
The Giants made a great start when they grabbed the lead on their first powerplay opportunity of the game.
Matt Pope had been sent to the penalty box for a hooking offence, the Giants piled on the pressure and within seconds of Jim Vandermeer having a shot saved by Ben Bowns, Blair Riley shifted the puck to Sylvestre who finished superbly at 2:36 - 26 seconds into the powerplay.
Cardiff turned the tables as Giants defenceman Spiro Goulakos ran into penalty trouble, twice being sent to the box in quick succession which put the Devils on two separate powerplays, scoring from both.
Layne Ulmer struck the equaliser on the first of those, finishing off good work from Paul Crowder and Joey Martin at 5:46.
There were chances for both teams, with the Giants particularly frustrated to see a good effort stopped by Bowns, before Goulakos was punished again, allowing the Devils to grab the lead on the eight minute mark.
Patrick Asselin got the goal after being set up by Andrew Hotham and Jake Morissette.
A fight between Cardiff's Justin Faryna and Giants' John Kurtz gave the game a bit more spark - as if it was needed - before the Giants ended a whilwind opening 11 minutes with an equalising goal from Ryan Martinelli after a swift breakaway.
Penalties against Sylvestre and Matt Towe left the Giants defending a five-on-three as the midway point of the second period approached.
They survived more than a minute as the defence cleared a couple of rebounds after Jackson Whistle saves, but Cardiff finally went ahead when Joey Martin netted at 30:44.
That looked like being the game-winning goal until just seconds from the end of regulation time Sylvestre's shot hit a defenceman's skate and took the puck beyond Bowns and into the net.
Bowns was outstanding in overtime to deny the Giants victory, meaning an amazing game would be decided with the drama of a penalty shoot-out.
Darcy Murphy was first up, ending his effort wide of Bowns' goal and it remained scoreless when Morrisette shot into Jackson Whistle's body.
Bowns then got his stick to the puck to prevent David Rutherford from getting a meaningful shot on goal before Joey Martin saw his attempt saved by Whistle.
The Giants failed for the third time when Brendan Connolly couldn't beat Bowns and when Whistle saved from Asselin it meant sudden death.
Asselin was sent up first this time and again Whistle was equal to his effort.
Sylvestre went close, shooting over the crossbar and after Morissette was denied by Whistle once again Rutherford broke the shoot-out deadlock to win the game.