Belfast Giants’ Elite League title hopes dealt hammer blow
Belfast Giants’ Elite League title hopes were dealt a potentially fatal blow on Friday night when they fell to a 5-2 road defeat against Manchester Storm.
Four unanswered goals for the home side in the final period sealed Belfast’s fate and almost certainly ended their hopes of a first league triumph since 2014.
The result means that Adam Keefe’s team now trail Cardiff Devils by four points with just four matches left.
Cardiff can win the trophy for the third year in a row if the Giants lose at home to Sheffield on Sunday and the Welsh side defeat Manchester on Saturday and Dundee 24 hours later.
On Friday, Manchester’s discipline let them down early on, as they had to defend a five-on-three power-play midway through the first period.
Kyle Baun gave the Giants the lead on 13:21 after assists from Darcy Murphy and Dustin Johner as their power-play continued to impress.
Eleven minutes into the middle session, Manchester levelled matters when Dane Byers fired the puck past Tyler Beskorowany at the far post, after collecting a pass from Mike Hammond.
Manchester continued to live dangerously through indiscipline and they were made to pay when, with Ruopp in the box for a second time, the visitors struck in the 36th minute.
Former NHL defenceman Jim Vandermeer fired a powerful long-range shot through traffic to make it 2-1.
Manchester stunned the Giants at the start of the final period when they scored twice in the space of 28 seconds with Hammond and Luke Moffatt on target.
Worse was to follow for the Giants as Ciaran Long added a fourth goal with under five minutes left and Byers then scored into the empty net with eight seconds remaining.