The Excel Hull Stingrays tonight battled hard against Elite League title contenders the Belfast Giants but - having leveled the scores at 2-2 midway through the second - eventually fell to an impressive Northern Irish outfit by five goals to two.
As you would expect from a side chasing the league title, the Giants started the game with real intensity in the offensive zone and they peppered the Rays with 17 shots in the first period, thanks in part to their four powerplay opportunities.
Nevertheless, despite the visitors dominating the early stages it was the Stingrays that managed to craft the first real clear cut chance of the game as British netminder Stephen Murphy denied defenceman Drew Bannister twice within seconds to keep the scores level.
Still, the Giants again pushed forward but again the Rays created another chance as forward Konstantin Kalmikov looked to add to his goal in Sheffield last night with a big shot that squeaked through Murphy's pads only to be cleared agonisingly off the line.
After firing the best part of 17 shots on the Rays goal, Doug Christiansen's side then took a deserved lead on 12.21 as captain Josh Prudden found a way to force the puck home on the Giants third powerplay attempt of the game.
They doubled that lead again on the powerplay nearly five minutes into the second as Brandon Benedict perfectly predicted a rebound from Christian Boucher to put the puck home.
Things could have potentially been a lot worse for the Stingrays had Mike Hoffman put away a penalty shot awarded for being brought down on a breakaway, however, the sizeable Canadian's backhanded shot was denied one-on-one by a blocker save from Boucher.
The home side seemed to gain momentum from the missed opportunity and they opened their account for the nigh just 15 seconds later as a typical quick release wristshot from Kalmikov found its way home for the Ukrainian's second goal in two games.
Two successive high stick penalties awarded against the Giants then allowed the Stingrays to record their third powerplay goal in two games with Trevor Read on hand to level the scores at the back post of Murphy's goal.
The Giants quickly got themselves back in the lead however, as Dan Welch took advantage of the Rays playing four forwards on the powerplay to net a goal less than two minutes after the home team had leveled for the first time.
That goal all but killed the Stingrays off and further third period goals from Jon Gleed - who similarly to Prudden, scrappily poked the puck home - and Hoffman, who atoned for his earlier penalty shot miss by using his size to net a fine individual effort, deservedly sealed the win in favour of the hard working title chasers.
The two third period goals perhaps gave the scoreline an unfair slant in favour of the Giants, however, few in attendance could argue with the result going the way of Christiansen's side, particularly after they flew out of the gates to fire 17 first period shots on the Rays net with just four going the other way on Murphy.
Although the defeat is the Stingrays third in a row at the Hull Arena, Saturday's 4-3 win over Sheffield eases the pain of the loss and stems the run of defeats. Given last night's exploits, a defeat, particularly against the Giants, who are currently playing very well, potentially on their way to a league title, is nothing to worry about. Perhaps more worrying is that it isn't beyond the realms of possibility that the Stingrays will face the Northern Irish side in the first round of the EIHL playoffs.
The Stingrays, who lost Jereme Tendler and Ben Lowe to possibly injuries tonight, must now regroup for possibly the toughest spell of the season as they face four games in six days starting on Tuesday in Cardiff. From there Cloutier's side visit Belfast on Thursday and Coventry on Saturday before returning home on Sunday to take on a playoff chasing Newcastle side that narrowed the gap between themselves in ninth and Dundee in eighth last night with a win over the Stars.
FBB Three Stars
1- Konstantin Kalmikov (1+0)
2- Christian Boucher (38 shots, 5 goals against)
3- Kurtis Dulle (0+0)
3- Kurtis Dulle (0+0)