Giants keep cool heads during dramatic finale to cut title gap
Belfast Giants 4 Cardiff Devils 3
There was late drama and controversy as the Belfast Giants won a nervy penalty shoot-out to cut the Cardiff Devils' lead at the top of the Elite League table to six points.
With the Giants leading 3-2 with just over five minutes to go, thanks to two goals from David Rutherford either side of a great finish from Sebastien Sylvestre, Cardiff ensured they would take at least a point when Mark Richardson equalised.
The drama didn't end there. With one second of overtime left on the clock, Spiro Goulakos pulled out an outstanding shot from the blueline that everyone inside the SSE Arena thought had won the game - everyone, that is, apart from the officials, who ruled it out.
The home fans did go home happy though as Darcy Murphy scored the only goal in the shoot-out to win the game and set up an even bigger contest when the two teams meet again tonight.
An early penalty against Blair Riley led to Cardiff taking the lead at 3:54.
Just 22 seconds into the powerplay, Joey Martin sent the puck across the face of the Giants goal from right to left and Jake Morrissette had his stick pulled back to redirect it into the net.
The Giants grew into the game and levelled the scores at 17:22. Rutherford skated through the zones and took the puck around Bryce Reddick with a neat move before pushing it over the line and sliding into the goal.
It was straight off to the penalty box for Rutherford after he became involved with Andrew Hotham as they both lay on the ice.
The Giants dominated large parts of the second period and then took the lead at 26:03.
Colin Shields pulled the puck out from the boards to Steve Saviano, he found Sylvestre right between the face-off circles and after taking one touch to control he flicked his shot over Ben Bowns' shoulder.
Cardiff started the third period on a powerplay and when Jim Vandermeer was punished for cross checking four minutes after the restart, they again had a numerical advantage and this time they made it pay.
Andrew Hotham fired the puck across goal from the right and Patrick Asselin met it with his outstretched stick to equalise at 44:56.
Typical of the Giants' performance on the night, however, they were behind for only 62 seconds.
Murphy's pass through the neutral zone took out the entire Cardiff defence and sent Rutherford one-on-one with Bowns. He moved the puck left to right and opened up the bottom corner of the net to score.
The Devils levelled again five minutes from the end - again on a powerplay. Hotham sent the puck towards the right of goal from the blueline and Richardson snapped up the chance from close range to send the game into overtime.
The SSE Arena erupted when, with a second left on the clock at the end of overtime, Goulakos sent a shot from the blueline flying into the net. The celebrations were cut short, however, when the goal was ruled out, seemingly because Jonathan Ferland's skate was inside the goaltender's crease.
Despite protests, the referee was adamant and that meant penalties.
Rutherford missed for the Giants and after Murphy scored, Whistle - who had saved from Haddad and Joey Martin - then denied Asselin to win the game for the Giants.