Storm make Belfast Giants pay the penalty
Belfast Giants 2-3 Manchester Storm
The Belfast Giants fell to a frustrating 3-2 loss on penalty shots to the Manchester Storm in the first game of their double header with the English side.
After a 2-2 tie in regulation, and with a typically nervy period of three-on-three overtime unable to settle the score either, it came down to the lottery of penalty shots.
It was the Storm who held their nerve, Ciaran Long and Riley Stadel both beating Tyler Beskorowany in the shootout to take the two points.
Manchester netminder Matt Ginn was in exceptional form, turning away 39 shots to backstop his side to an important victory.
The Giants are still top of the Elite League table by three points, however the Cardiff Devils have three games in hand behind them in second.
It also continues a little bit of a tough run for the side, who have now dropped four of their last eight in all competitions after going on two lengthy winning streaks on the road.
It was a short-handed bench for the Giants for the first game of this two-match set with the Storm, with the two sides meeting again today (7pm face-off), and the first match of their seven-game home stand as forward Hunter Bishop was suspended, while Paul Swindlehurst and Guillaume Gelinas were both missing through injury.
However, the Giants were buoyed by the return of former NHL forward Patrick Dwyer to the line-up after a lengthy absence, and they were the stronger side in the first period, doing just about everything except finding the net.
And having been wasteful in front of goal, it was perhaps fitting that it was Manchester who led at the first intermission when Dane Byers opened the scoring at 8:52 after being set up by Luke Moffatt.
But Giants came out stronger after the restart and they levelled after just 45 seconds of the second period when the top line fired once more and saw David Rutherford supply the pass for Darcy Murphy to equalise.
A feisty game saw a mass brawl break out at one point, with all players on the ice involved in a heated scrap in front of the home goal, Curtis Leonard and Harrison Ruopp the fall guys for the fight.
With the game delicately poised heading into the third, the Storm took the advantage when Shane Bakker put them ahead at 43:16, with Logan MacMillan and Chance Braid getting the assists.
But the lead was quickly cancelled out at 49:17 when defenceman Kendall McFaull struck back with a well-placed shot having been set up by the tireless Jonathan Ferland, who was having an excellent game.
That sent it into overtime and, although Manchester took a penalty for too many men late in the extra period, the visitors managed to hold on to take it to the shootout.
And they were rewarded for it handsomely.
While the Giants found Manchester goaltender Matt Ginn unbeatable in the one-on-ones, Long and Stadel both found the twine with their strikes to leave the hosts with just a point for their efforts.
• AFTER overcoming the Dundee Stars in their quarter-final, the dates for the Belfast Giants' semi-final legs against the Glasgow Clan have been revealed.
The first leg will be played at intu Braehead on Tuesday 29 January with a 7.30pm face-off, with the return leg at the SSE Arena on Thursday 14 February at 7pm.
Glasgow reached the last four with a thrilling victory over last year's runners-up the Cardiff Devils thanks to an overtime win at the Viola Arena.
The other semi-final will be contested by the Nottingham Panthers and Guildford Flames, with the final on March 10 in Cardiff.