Title hopes fade after Keefe's men stunned
Manchester Storm 5 Belfast Giants 2
If the Belfast Giants' hopes of winning the Elite League were slim before they travelled to Manchester, then they're remote leaving it.
Mike Hammond and Luke Moffatt struck 28 seconds apart at the start of the third period to hand the Storm a shock 5-2 win at the Manchester Ice Arena, leaving the Giants' chances of ending Cardiff's stranglehold on the trophy as outside at best.
Now four points behind the league-leading Devils with just four games to play, Adam Keefe's side know nothing less than perfection to finish the season will do, while also needing their rivals to slip up twice - a tall order.
On the night, it was a chance missed, the Giants ahead twice before capitulating at the start of the final stanza, which was capped by Ciaran Long's 29th goal of the season to wrap things up.
The Giants had welcomed back netminder Tyler Beskorowany from injury, however even he couldn't save his side from two defensive lapses at the start of the final period.
Hammond was the first to profit for Manchester, the forward striking 1:14 into the third period with Jonathan Ferland in the box for a holding call, before Moffatt got his goal in quick succession, capitalising on a lax turnover from the Giants.
For the title-chasing Giants, it had all looked so good after the first period as they had led going in at the intermission thanks to Kyle Baun's powerplay marker at 13:21.
Linden Springer was in the box for high sticking and Baun took a pass in the slot from Darcy Murphy and snapped home.
Defenceman Jim Vandermeer then added his 100th point in teal for the visitors' second with 15:42 gone in the second period, the NHL veteran lasering in a cannon of a slapshot from the blueline, again on the man advantage after Harrison Ruopp headed off for interference.
In between those goals, Dane Byers had tied things up for the Storm just 10:17 into the second period when the Giants failed to clear their zone and Hammond found his team-mate lurking at the backdoor for the finish.
It was a game where the Giants had their chances, as evidenced by six powerplays that yielded only two goals, with the most frustrating a 5-on-3 late in the second period that didn't result in a strike and instead ended up in Ferland taking the call that led to Hammond's goal early in the third.
With time ebbing away, GB international Long found the net with 7:47 to go and Byers' empty netter at 58:52 perhaps sounded the death knell on the Giants' title hopes too.