The Stena Line Belfast Giants got taken down 6-3 in a wild Champions League game at The SSE Arena against Luleå of Sweden on Tuesday night.
After going down 3-0 in the second period, the Giants battled back with two quick goals from Liam Morgan and Liam Reddox early in the third period. Luleå would have an answer for every Belfast comeback attempt, ultimately skating away with a commanding victory.
The loss ensured that Luleå would advance out of the group and into the Champions League playoffs while the Giants now can’t move on to the Playoffs.
The Giants came out of the gates flying, trying to set the tempo against a fast-moving Luleå HF team. Bobby Farnham ripped around the offensive zone like a wrecking ball, laying down two big hits to let Luleå know this was going to be a hard-fought 60 minutes of play.
Despite the hard start from the Giants, it would be Luleå who opened the scoring. At 5:26, leading-scorer Arttu Ilomaki cruised into the zone, avoided a hit, and fed Joonas Jalvanti who ripped a laser past a screened Chris Owen.
That would be the only goal of the period, as the Giants skated out of the first period down 1-0. Luleå HF would carry a 12-9 lead on the shot clock into the first intermission.
It was Déjà vu in the second period. The Giants, yet again, came out flying, laying hits and directing shots towards the opposing net, but it was Luleå HF who ended up putting a puck in the back of the net. At 25:25, Juhani Teravainen clapped a one-timer from the high slot between Owen’s legs to extend the lead to 2-0.
Luleå carried their momentum through the first half of the period, generating multiple quality scoring chances. Owen stood tall in net and Mark Garside was able to clear a puck that was slowly about to trickle past the line in order to keep the Giants in the game.
Unfortunately, Owen couldn’t keep the door closed. At 37:17, Austin Farley busted down the slot, picked up a pass from the corner, and finessed a puck past Owen to make the score 3-0. Luleå would carry their three-goal lead into the second intermission also holding an 18-17 edge on the shot clock.
Though they were down 3-0, the Giants didn’t fold. Luleå HF took a penalty early on in the first period and, at 41:49, Liam Morgan took a cross-crease pass from Liam Reddox and chipped it past a diving David Rautio.
Shortly after, with Luleå in the penalty box again, Morgan fed a cross-ice pass to Jordan Smotherman, who clapped a slap shot on net. Rautio made the original save but Liam Reddox cleaned up the rebound to bring the Giants to within one goal.
The goal and assist upped Morgan to seven points in Champions League play to seven, which leads the team.
Unfortunately, the comeback was short-lived. Luleå would regain their two-goal lead when Robin Kovacs buried a shot past Owen and then, minutes later, Luleå scored again to make the score 5-2. All four goals came within four minutes.
The Giants made the game interesting in the dying minutes of the third period. At 54:39, Liam Reddox wrapped the puck behind the net and jammed it underneath Rautio’s pad to bring the Giants back to within two goals. It was Reddox’s second goal of the game and fourth point in Champions League play.
Yet again, though, Luleå had a response. On a four-on-three power play, Ilomaki slammed home his second goal of the game to make it 6-3. That would be the final score as Luleå slammed the door in the remaining minutes.
The loss means that the Giants can’t advance out of the group stage in Champions League play.
Photo credit: Belfast Giants.