Belfast Telegraph

Short-benched Giants see herculean effort fall short in Augsburg defeat

Augsburger Panther 3-1 Belfast Giants

Belfast Giants' Liam Reddox with Augsburger Panther's Jaroslav Hafenrichter and David Stieler (William Cherry/Presseye)
Belfast Giants' Liam Reddox with Augsburger Panther's Jaroslav Hafenrichter and David Stieler (William Cherry/Presseye)
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

AUGSBURG, Ger. -- So near and yet so far for the Belfast Giants, and that may be their Champions League hopes gone now.

Having battled through adversity, namely having several players unavailable for various reasons, the Giants had come so close to taking their game against the Augsburger Panther to overtime only to have it cruelly snatched away.

Defenseman Henry Haase's ripped shot from the top of the left circle with 7.15 remaining put paid to any hopes of the visitors escaping from the Curt-Frenzel-Stadion with anything for their hard-fought efforts.

With just 42.5 seconds remaining, Adam Payerl ensured the Augsburg win with an empty netter, seeing the Giants (1-1-2) fall to the bottom of Group C in the CHL with just their two games against Lulea in October left to play.

Haase's goal came 1.24 after Belfast had tied it up, Brian Ward with his third of the CHL campaign, tipping in a shot from Liam Morgan - who picked up his fifth assist of the season - out in front past Panther goaltender Markus Keller.

It had been Keller who had kept Augsburg ahead, however, his 24-save performance instrumental in preventing the Giants from fighting back after the Germans forged ahead with some big saves.

In the second period in particular he was key. Ben Lake and Jordan Smotherman both had good looks denied by the goalie, but the best opportunity fell to Lewis Hook as he forced the turnover in neutral ice and skated in on Keller, only for the goaltender to glove the shot well.

At the other end, Shane Owen proved all his doubters wrong with a sublime 38-save performance in the Belfast net, keeping them in the game for long stretches and beaten only twice in a punishing display.

Augsburg's opener he couldn't have done much about either. Having battled through a punishing penalty kill, with Lewis Hook off for slashing, it was as the winger was returning to the ice that the Germans struck, Patrick McNeill's shot batted back down into the crease by Owen and the lethal Matt Fraser was on hand to slide it in at 7:38 of the second.

But besides that, Owen had been exceptional, making some key saves from Augsburger's electric top line of Fraser, Sahir Gill and Jakob Mayenschein, including some excellent denials on loose plays around the net.

The Giants' chances weren't helped by the fact they were two defencemen short, with captain Matt Pelech serving the first of a two-game suspension and Jesse Forsberg still out injured, but still they produced a phenomenal, battling display in front of a loud and large travelling support.

It also didn't help that their powerplay continued to struggle, going 0-for-4, their third straight game without a powerplay marker, with the tone firmly set when they failed to make the most of a 2+2 early in the second period.

They'd already struck out on two first period powerplays when Scott Valentine took four minutes for high sticking, but Curtis Leonard ringing the pipes was the closest they'd get - and shortly after Fraser broke the deadlock.

Where their powerplay failed, their penalty kill continued to flourish, going 6-for-6 and killing off some key penalties too, especially when they had to endure two 5-on-3s across the end of the second period and start of the third when Ben Lake and Mark Garside headed off - the former twice.

But, ultimately, they didn't have enough and, barring two incredible results against the Swedish heavyweights Lulea, their European adventure looks destined to come to a premature end.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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