Cruel end­ing as Gi­ants go down in Cup fi­nal drama

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT - BY ADAM McKENDRY

IN a Con­ti­nen­tal Cup fi­nal that seemed like all the bounces were go­ing the Belfast Gi­ants’ way, to lose it was cruel in the ex­treme.

The Gi­ants’ hopes of land­ing the sil­ver­ware were dra­mat­i­cally dashed as they lost a penalty shootout against Kaza­khstan side Ar­lan Kok­shetau.

It was a real sting in the tail for the home side who showed great re­silience.

Net­min­der Tyler Besko­rowany came up big in the sec­ond pe­riod to keep the deficit at two.

Chris Hig­gins and Dustin Johner tied it up in the third. The Gi­ants made a big penalty kill at the end of reg­u­la­tion and again in over­time to take it to penalty shots.

Even in the shootout, fac­ing de­feat, Johner struck again with the fi­nal shot to take it to sud­den death.

But fate re­fused to smile on them one more time.

Yev­geni Gas­nikov beat Besko­rowany for the sec­ond time in a heart­break­ing shootout loss for the Gi­ants.

That it was even as close as it was is a tes­ta­ment to the re­solve of the Gi­ants, who had strug­gled to break down the res­o­lute Kazakh de­fen­sive sys­tem for the ma­jor­ity of the game, only to bring it level in the third.

But in the end it wasn’t to mat­ter, Gas­nikov set­tling the tie in the toss-up that is penalty shots and earn­ing them the tro­phy.

“It’s a tough pill to swal­low,” ad­mit­ted Gi­ants head coach Adam Keefe. “But I’m pleased with the fightback in the third pe­riod be­cause they were a re­ally solid team de­fen­sively.

“We had a cou­ple chances to end that game in reg­u­la­tion and in over­time as well and it speaks vol­ume of that dress­ing room.

“It’s valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence for our club, to play in that pres­sure cooker sit­u­a­tion of play­ing in a one-off game for a cham­pi­onship and the sit­u­a­tions that arose, that’s valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s a learn­ing curve for us but hope­fully we take that pain and ap­ply it to the rest of the sea­son.”

That it ended in the way it did was in­cred­i­ble given the way the game went in the first pe­riod.

Belfast were on top for most of it but some­how they didn’t take the lead. Then de­fence­man Sergei Ye­gorov had the shot from the blue­line, Besko­rowany lost the puck in traf­fic in front of the net and the vis­i­tors had the lead at 11:51.

It was two at the first in­ter­mis­sion, the Gi­ants’ de­fence leav­ing two men free at the crease at 18:08 and it was Vadim Yer­mo­layev who got the fi­nal touch on Vladimir Male­vich’s shot to di­vert it past Besko­rowany. That Ar­lan weren’t out of sight by the end of the sec­ond pe­riod was solely down to Besko­rowany, the im­pos­ing back­stop sav­ing from Vladislav Kolesnikov, Dmitri Po­taichuk and Ivan Kise­lyov to keep the deficit at two.

Ar­lan came out in the third will­ing to soak up pres­sure from the Gi­ants and, al­though ini­tially they looked solid at the back, the on­slaught told from the hosts.

Chris Hig­gins pulled one back at 47:44 when he jammed home the puck after Poloshkov couldn’t hold Kyle Baun’s ini­tial shot, and then Johner lifted the roof off the SSE Arena when his low drive beat the net­min­der at 48:56.

But the drama didn’t end there. Jonathan Fer­land took a hook­ing call and Baun skied the puck over the boards for a de­lay of game penalty and all of a sud­den the Gi­ants had a five-on-three to kill with five min­utes to play.

Stanislav Borovikov hit the post but a bril­liant de­fen­sive dis­play saw the hosts hold on and send it to over­time.

Jim Van­der­meer should have won it in the ex­tra pe­riod, how­ever he couldn’t beat Poloshkov in a one-on-one, and any hope of the Gi­ants avoid­ing the shootout ended when Hig­gins took a penalty.

Belfast did kill it off, but that only sent it to the dreaded shootout where Gas­nikov was Ar­lan’s hero.

Killer blow: Belfast Gi­ants’ Tyler Besko­rowany can’t stop Ar­lan Kok­shetau’s Yev­geni Gas­nikov from scor­ing the win­ning penalty

Get in: Dustin Johner scores

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