A Christmas four pointer over the struggling Glasgow Clan had the Teal Army in high spirits, as they arrived for the final Belfast Giants game of the decade Monday night.
Standing in their way, for what felt like the 50th time this season, was Omar Pacha’s Dundee Stars. Dundee themselves are a side struggling for consistency right now- propping up the league table in last place, with only 9 wins through 29 games played.
Pacha had rang the changes in December in an attempt to get things going, leading to Elgin Pearce’s move across the Irish Sea- with tonight being the first time he would face his former club in Teal.
Despite Dundee’s league position, their scalps over the Giants this season have been well documented- and fans took their seats hoping for another professional outing from Adam Keefe’s men to close the year, and decade.
FIRST PERIOD: Caught Napping
Belfast were keen to set the tone in their opening shifts, with high energy displays from, unsurprisingly, Elgin Pearce and super-Swede Rickard Palmberg.
Palmberg was a whisker away from another highlight reel goal in the fourth minute, dangling his way down the slot and pushing the puck just wide in a wild pile up.
But at five minutes exactly, it was David Goodwin who lit the lamp first- coming across the zone mid slot and melting Alex Leclerc’s brain out of his ears with a sensational finish. (1-0)
Dundee responded less than two minutes later. Owen snapped his pads together to stop a wrist shot from the left circle, before a bad bounce back into the slot found the stick of Kevin Dufour at 6:38. (1-1)
Belfast rang the post on the power play with nine to go in the period, the first of a volley of shots at Leclerc, but Dundee’s kill unit survived.
Belfast also rang the crossbar shortly after, before Dundee edged a lead- once again against the run of play courtesy of Matt Carter at 13:09. (1-2)
For spells of the first, Belfast appeared slow to transition into defense from the Dundee zone- and not committing overly hard to the back check was allowing the Stars odd man rushes and looks on goal.
Liam Reddox took a puck to the chest in the closing seconds of the period, lying prone on the ice in a worrying sight for the home crowd. After being treated by the Giants medical staff he was able to make his way off ice on his own feet.
SECOND PERIOD: Ready Liam Fire
Reddox was fortunately back in action in the opening minutes of the second, and was on hand to sauce the puck across the crease for Bobby Farnham to five hole Leclerc, tying the game at 22:58. (2-2)
Belfast agonisingly rang the crossbar yet again on the power play (Gans, Tripping, 30:02), and had decent zone time- but failed to convert.
But fear not. One-man apple machine Liam Reddox was again on hand from the right of the zone, feeding Patrick Mullen at the back door who lasered the puck past Leclerc, retaking the lead. (3-2)
Shane Owen made a sensational leg save to deny Dufour his second of the game with 3:46 left in the period, but the resulting pile up earned David Goodwin a tripping call of his own. This was doubled up by Ryan Lowney with a slashing call at 37:47.
Belfast, still without their talisman penalty killer Kevin Raine, were a solid match for the 5-on-3, but Dundee found their way inside with 52 seconds left of the 5-on-4. A deft pass from Matthew Carter tucked behind the goal was met in the slot by a vicious Colton Kroeker one timer. (3-3)
THIRD PERIOD: Yeah Maybe Just Stop Reading Here
Beloved EIHL referee Andy Dalton called a tripping penalty on Bobby Farnham at 47:58, which was met with a polite and respectful round of applause from the stands. “Fair cop” someone said. “He’s got us there” replied another.
Back in real life, after the furious booing subsided, Belfast kept solid pressure on Dundee- pinning the puck in the visitors’ zone for the majority of the kill.
However, with just 7 seconds left of the Stars power play, Matt Marquadt found himself some space in the right circle- wristing a speculative puck up and over the right shoulder of Shane Owen at 49:52. (3-4)
Belfast saw a power play chance go begging with just under ten left in the game. As frustration grew in the crowd, Alex Leclerc in the Stars goal proved the difference maker, along with the help of the crossbar- AGAIN- off a Rickard Palmberg rocket.
Dundee continued to force turnovers in the neutral zone, much to the chagrin of an already exasperated home crowd who were willing their team back to life.
With Mark Garside in the box, Belfast almost brought the house down short handed- but a well worked attempt on goal, and a second bite of the cherry, was denied by a sharp Leclerc.
Shane Owen headed for the bench with around 90 seconds left, but Belfast struggled for significant zone time to threaten an equaliser. Adam Keefe called a time out with 58 on the clock, looking for a last roll of the dice.
But with a turnover in the Stars zone, Kevin Dufour put the final nail in the coffin on this one, and as the Dundee bench celebrated wildly, the stands cleared. (3-5)
To add insult to injury, Dufour completed his hat trick- once again on an empty net- with 23 seconds left. (3-6)
A tough look.
AVFTB POST GAME INTERVIEWS
Adam Keefe: “I hope it stings the guys.”
Liam Reddox: “We started looking a little bit too far ahead.”
Words: Joel Neill
Audio: Joel Neill / AVFTB
Images: William Cherry / PressEye