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Stunning Giants comeback in vain as Flames take overtime victory in Belfast

Belfast Giants 4-5 Guildford Flames (OT)


Belfast Giants' Lewis Hook with Guildford Flames' Erik Lindhagen during Saturday night's Elite League game at the SSE Arena (William Cherry/Presseye)

Belfast Giants' Lewis Hook with Guildford Flames' Erik Lindhagen during Saturday night's Elite League game at the SSE Arena (William Cherry/Presseye)

William Cherry/Presseye

Belfast Giants' Lewis Hook with Guildford Flames' Erik Lindhagen during Saturday night's Elite League game at the SSE Arena (William Cherry/Presseye)

An incredible comeback that saw the Belfast Giants tie things up with 49.4 seconds remaining was ultimately in vain as John Dunbar struck 2:11 into overtime to break home hearts at the SSE Arena.

With the Giants flooding the crease in overtime, Dunbar got the two-man breakaway with Braylon Shmyr and, after the pair exchanged passes, it was the former who smashed in the game-winner to seal a 5-4 win for the visitors.

Belfast, who clawed back a three-goal deficit in the third period thanks to Brian Ward's leveller inside the final minute, take a point from the game for their troubles, but ultimately it's a point dropped in the title race that sees them fall five behind league leaders the Sheffield Steelers.

Adam Keefe's men drop to 27-16-4 on the season with the loss and once again it was their inconsistency that plagued them, unable to back up Friday's 7-3 win over the same opponents despite out-shooting their opponents 37-17 across the three periods.

It looked like they had all the momentum too when Ward rolled in his 18th goal of the season at 19:11 of the final period, tapping in the rebound when Patrick Mullen's shot was batted back into the crease by Flames netminder Wouter Peeters - 33 saves - but ultimately they couldn't capitalise in overtime.

Bobby Farnham had got himself free at the crease in the extra frame, only for Ryan Lowney not to hit him with the pass, and when Dunbar and Shmyr went up the other end of the ice, they were in no mood to let the Giants off with it.

"It's not great. That's twice we've (pulled games back in the third), but ultimately we've come out of them with a point in each. They're big points given the holes we dug, but it is only one point and we need two," lamented Keefe.

"It is disappointing. We knew they'd have a push back and be better and we made some poor puck decisions overall. Thought we were out-competed, out-worked and out-battled for 40 minutes.

"We brought it back in the third and the bench had some real jump, which was great, but we left ourselves too big a hole to climb out of."

At the end of the day, it perhaps wasn't a game the Giants deserved to steal anyway, unable to effect a strong penalty kill in giving up two powerplay goals on a 2-for-4 night for the special teams, while a 1-for-5 powerplay of their own and just 12 saves from Shane Owen in goal didn't help.

Jordan Smotherman (17th) and Mullen (5th) had led the comeback in the third period after the Flames had put themselves three goals to the good with a hat-trick of strikes in the middle frame - with winger Jamie Crooks grabbing a brace - but it was to prove all in vain.

"The comeback is a big moral victory for us, especially given it's the second time in as many weeks we've done it. Obviously dropping the point is not something we want to be doing at this point of the season, or putting ourselves behind," said Smotherman.

"We're going to take tonight as a moral victory. It's a little late in the season to be learning lessons but, with seven games left in the season, we need to take that with us."

It was a costly night for the hosts too, who were dealing without David Goodwin with an upper body injury and then lost Team GB defenceman Paul Swindlehurst early when he was forced out of the game after being thumped into the boards behind the net, and things didn't improve from there.

Mark Garside, who switched back to defence with the loss of Swindlehurst, cracked the post with a one-timer before Crooks did the same for Guildford at the other end, but when Kevin Raine was called for holding, the Giants' penalty kill couldn't bail them out.

The special teams had been perfect a day prior, but this time it took seven seconds of the Flames' powerplay for the visitors to break the deadlock, Ben Davies pinging one in off the post from the right circle for 1-0 at 12:20.

After going 3-for-4 on Friday, Belfast's powerplay failed to connect on their opening man advantage when Crooks took a hooking minor, but the kill unit came through at the second time asking when they played out Ciaran Long's holding call split across the first intermission.

But the Flames made their powerplay time count, firing in just six seconds after Long's minor expired, Brett Ferguson putting the puck back in front for Crooks to jab in his first of the night at 1:57 of the middle frame to make it 2-0.

Crooks added his second soon after at 7:31, the winger going on a two-on-one with Dunbar and the centre dished the pass across perfectly for Crooks to double his tally for the night and make it 3-0.

Needing a response, Giants head coach Keefe called a timeout to rally the troops, and the riot act worked, Curtis Hamilton putting the hosts on the board with his team-leading 21st of the season at 9:04 when his shot from the left circle banked in off a Flames skate at the back post and in for 3-1.

But the fightback was short-lived, killed by Ben Lake taking a needless slashing penalty in the neutral zone and the Flames playing tic-tac-toe hockey on the powerplay which saw Kruise Reddick and Dunbar set up Watters for the tap-in for 4-1 at 12:20.

The hosts were handed two big chances to pull it back to a two-goal game either side of the intermission when Watters was pinged for slashing before the intermission and then Ferguson was pinged for interference, however on both occasions the special teams failed to connect.

However, out of nowhere Belfast pulled themselves back into it with a near impossible finish from Smotherman, the winger finding the smallest of gaps in Peeters' pads from the tightest of angles to make it 4-2 at 7:05 of the final period.

"I was trying to make a pass on the first play and then the puck just kinda sat there and (Peeters) was off his post, so I just jammed at it and it went in the net," said Smotherman.

"Sometimes it takes a lucky goal like that to get something sparked and luckily it did."

And then Mullen made it a one-goal game again, the defenceman seizing on a loose puck after a scramble at the net and sliding it into the empty cage with Peeters out of position for 4-3 at 9:39.

Both sides had to see out penalties after Flames head coach Paul Dixon called a timeout to calm down his side, Curtis Leonard's roughing call negated by Kruise Reddick called for slashing before the incredible finish that set up overtime.

Watters was sent to the box for delay of game when he tipped the puck into the penalty boxes and, with Owen pulled for the extra skater, Ward came up with the goal that sent the game to overtime with 49 seconds remaining to send the SSE Arena into pandemonium.

But the atmosphere couldn't have been more different at the final buzzer, a deflated home support crushed by Dunbar's winner 2:11 into the extra period, and perhaps their title hopes have been too.

"I'm not worried about titles. I'm worried about the Belfast Giants. We beat ourselves tonight and that's the worrying thing. We made too many mistakes tonight," blasted Keefe.

"If we can correct those then who knows where we'll end up in the league. As we saw last season, we just have to take it one game at a time and the league will take care of itself. It's a tough league, every game will be a battle no matter who you're playing. We need to take care of our own business."

The Giants are back in action on Friday night when they welcome bottom side the Fife Flyers (10th, 15-29-4, 34pts) to the SSE Arena (7pm) for their only game of next weekend.

Belfast Telegraph