By Kris Smith
Stars were unable to stop the undefeated Giants as they fell to a 4-1 defeat in the Northern Irish capital.
The decision to rest goaltender, Pontus Sjögren for the two big derby games against Fife meant Craig Holland was given the nod to start against Belfast as the Kitmart Dundee Stars looked to gain some more points in their chase for a place in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals. Hunter Bishop, Matt Towe and Andrew Dickson were all healthy scratches from the Belfast Giants line-up but they also chose to start their back-up netminder, Stephen Murphy.
Belfast were in front after just 63 seconds as Paul Swindlehurst fired a shot that Craig Holland could not hold and it rolled across the line to the home fans pleasure. It was all Giants in the opening minutes as Dundee struggled to create any real offensive chances and it was well after the five-minute mark before Murphy was even tested.
Stars finally got some offensive zone time when Blair Riley was penalised for hooking in the 8th minute. They soon gained a two-man advantage for a short time after Patrick Dwyer was sent to the box on a slashing call. Matt Marquardt troubled Murphy with a hard slapshot from the right but the Scot saved it and the penalties were killed. The action slowed down in the middle section of the first period as both teams were failing to hit the target.
After some pressure from Belfast, the Northern Irish side punished Dundee on the powerplay as Mike Sullivan was sent to the box for tripping in the 17th minute. Jim Vandermeer skated along the left board before firing a low shot towards Holland’s near post and the puck took a deflection off of his blocker and into the net at 18:16.
A tripping penalty against Vandermeer turned him from hero to zero, however Dustin Johner picked out the gap between Holland and the crossbar to push the Giants ahead 3-0 with a shorthanded goal at 18:56.
Omar Pacha’s side started the second period with a bit more jump, Lukas Lundvald had a great chance but was denied before Belfast received the same outcome at the other end of the ice. Kendall McFaull hit the Dundee goalframe before Shawn Boutin needed some treatment on the Stars bench after a coming together. Dundee were beginning to create more and more chances as they got tighter at the back.
Holland made a highlight reel save after he went from post-to-post to rob a Giant a certain goal from close range. The Scottish netminder then stepped up again to bail his teammate out as Petr Chaloupka lost his footing and Holland closed the door on Belfast. The home side were once again disadvantaged as they lost Riley to the penalty box for a tripping infraction in the 33rd minute. Curtis Leonard was then deemed guilty of cross-checking and that gave Dundee 45 seconds of 5-on-3 play.
François Bouchard got past the opposition defence and went one-on-one with the Belfast goalie but he shot wide of the goal. However, he delivered at the second time of asking, stepping into the slot and slipping a low shot past Murphy, pulling it back to 3-1 at 34:36. Towards the end of the second stanza, Mike Sullivan made a huge block and from that Dundee won possession but Marquardt was once again denied.
The Tayside team started well again but a lapse in concentration allowed David Rutherford to pick-pocket a defenceman but he could not get the puck past Holland. Johan Andersson picked up a hooking penalty but Dundee killed off the penalty and were playing with a lot of energy as they tried to find a way back into the game.
Hopes of winning any points were heavily dented by ex-Dundee defenceman, Swindlehurst who flicked a backhanded shot off the post but the rebound came off the Dundee goalie before landing in the goal. Belfast’s three-goal lead was restored at 44:25. Darcy Murphy made a smart play to knock the puck down out of mid-air in front of the Stars goal but Holland reacted within no-time to make the kick save. A Jordan Cownie penalty was killed off as Dundee really started to get forward but after more end-to-end action it came down to the final two minutes, where Stars were shorthanded again as Bouchard received a hooking minor.
Adam Keefe’s men held on to take both points despite Josh Roach taking a penalty with 4.2 seconds on the clock. Stars will have to take all six points form their last three group games if they hope to qualify for the quarter-finals. Both goaltenders had decent performances and for that Dundee’s Holland and Belfast’s Murphy were rewarded with the ‘Man of the Match’ awards.
Stars now travel to Kirkcaldy for the first of two Challenge Cup games with the Fife Flyers this weekend. Tonight’s game in Kirkcaldy will face-off at 7:15pm.