By Kris Smith

Penalties plagued Stars in their home leg of the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, as they were brushed aside by league leaders, Belfast.

Stars were without their starting netminder, Pontus Sjögren after he picked up an injury in Fife on Sunday. Craig Holland was given the start and he was backed-up by Dundee Comets goalie, Mathew Michie. The Giants travelled to Tayside without five of their players.

Fabrizio Ricci tested Tyler Beskorowany’s awareness early with a sneaky shot from the right side before Matt Bissonnette was given a second chance to get his effort on target after his initial attempt was blocked. His second shot brought a good save from the Belfast keeper, inside the first minute.

Stars gained the first man advantage when Kevin Raine was penalised for roughing, The Giant had a few shoves at Jordan Cownie after the Stars forward took a shot after the whistle. Omar Pacha’s men quickly gained a long 5-on-3 powerplay after Blair Riley was boxed for slashing in the fourth minute.

Despite having 79 seconds with a two-man advantage Dundee were unable to open the scoring before both penalties ended. Stars continued to create some dangerous attacking moves, Bissonnette and François Bouchard found themselves on a two versus one chance. Bissonnette opted to shoot but his shot was met by the strong shoulder of Beskorowany.

The visitors took the lead on the eighth minute mark as Lewis Hook played the puck to David Rutherford. The Giant was waiting in front of goal and deked Holland out the way before lifting it into the roof of the net. Dundee responded well, a quick shot from Captain, Johan Andersson forced a good reflex save from Beskorowany, who turned the shot wide.

Adam Keefe’s side doubled their lead when Rutherford picked out the top corner from far out on the left side, in the 13thminute. Giants got their first powerplay in the 14thminute as Dundee’s Petr Chaloupka was charged with holding. Dustin Johner nearly made it 3-0 after turning a pass goalward but Holland produced a good glove save to deny him.

The Northern Irish side then had their turn on a 5-on-3 powerplay for 71 seconds as a slashing penalty against Shawn Boutin cost Stars another man. It got worse for Pacha’s team when Drydn Dow was penalised for tripping to the Stars fans disbelief. A save from Holland combined with a block from defenceman Connor Cox kept Riley out.

However, the third goal did eventually come for Belfast. A pass went form side-to-side across the face of Dundee’s goal before Kyle Baun lifted it past the Stars goalie in the 16thminute. Shortly after Dundee returned to full-strength, the penalties continued. The latest was against last goal scorer, Baun. He was next in the box for holding in the 17thminute. It levelled out at 4-on-4 as Marquardt was also boxed for a high-sticking infraction. The first period ended with Marquardt still in the box for another 25 seconds and Belfast 3-0 ahead.

Stars killed the remaining time on Marquardt’s minor but their time at full-strength was short lived as Ricci was called for holding in the 23rdminute. Belfast were still in top gear, as Holland made a good first stop but Jonathon Ferland swiftly shot home the loose rebound in the 25thminute.

Paul Swindlehurst and Dundee’s Mike Sullivan were both boxed in the 26thminute for cross-checking and roughing after the pair went at each other after the initial foul. Pacha’s men did not have luck on their side as a blocked shot rebounded and sent two Giants through on goal with only Kris Inglis left to defend. Hook beat the Stars netminder easily to make it 5-0 in the 29thminute.

Ricci created the first Stars chance for a while but Beskorowany held his shot between his legs. An interference penalty against Riley in 33rd minute gave Stars the chance to get off the mark but they could not. However, Hunter Bishop could, the Belfast forward scored a shorthanded goal after beating the Stars goalie one-on-one in the 35thminute.

Just as Keefe’s side killed off one penalty, they were assessed another as Josh Roach was also given a minor penalty for interference after a hit on Jordan Kelsall. Inside the 36thminute, the away team extended their dominant lead to 7-0 as Baun bagged a second goal whilst again shorthanded. Just before the final interval, Sullivan was denied from the slot by the stick of Beskorowany. Dundee were struggling to break down the Giants but needed a miracle third period to make the next leg something to fight for.

Marquardt had the first chance of the final period, he drove towards the net from the left side before firing a shot off the chest of Beskorowany. Charles Corcoran was the next Star to test the Giants goalie but again he made the stop. Jim Vandermeer made it 8-0 to Belfast with a shot from the blueline that flew past a screened Holland in the 46thminute. Seconds later, Raine was back in the box for slashing.

Marquardt again was creating the chances for Dundee but still could not find a way past Beskorowany. A holding call against Vandermeer gave Stars their seventh chance on the powerplay as they searched for their first goal. A delayed interference call against Mark Garside gave Stars a chance with the extra man but Ricci was denied by a brilliant save as Beskorowany stretched his leg out to stop the shot.

Whilst on the powerplay, the golden chance fell for Marquardt to open Stars’ account but the forward managed to shoot wide of the far post in the 55thminute. Belfast killed off the penalty before Marquardt was again denied twice as the Giants shutout the Stars 8-0 in the first leg.

‘Man of the Match’ awards went to Tyler Beskorowany and Dundee’s Jordan Kelsall. Stars have a mountain to climb if they are to qualify for the semi-finals on December 11 but their focus has always been on the league and improving their position in the Elite League standings. Stars host Coventry Blaze on Saturday before facing Cardiff Devils in Wales on Sunday.

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