Cardiff Devils suffered a bitterly disappointing Elite League defeat at Manchester Storm on Saturday.
Captain Jake Morissette and his team outshot Storm in all three periods, but lost 3-1 after the home team scored an empty with 21 seconds left.
EIHL leaders Devils were without suspended Layne Ulmer and injured Joey Haddad, but they had enough firepower to have come out on top at the Altrincham rink.
Haddad is close to fitness and was expected to be back by now, but his rehabilitation is taking a little longer than it was thought.
Now Devils focus on Sunday’s home match against Sheffield Steelers at the Viola Arena in Cardiff Bay when they have to show the character of champions.
That clash is certain to be a 3,000-plus sell-out with Devils intent on regaining their winning style.
They are still top of the table, three points ahead of Belfast Giants with a game in hand, but will be devastated by this defeat on a night when their closest challengers, won 6-5 against Coventry Blaze.
Giants scored their winner with one minute 28 seconds left in the final period of regulation time with Darcy Murphy on target.
Joey Martin was Cardiff’s goalscorer at Manchester, while Dane Byers, Evan Richardson and Dallas Erhardt netted for Storm.
It was Erhardt who scored the late empty net goal which secured the win for head coach Ryan Finnerty and his Manchester team.
Devils now have back-to-back home fixtures against Sheffield Steelers on Sunday and Coventry Blaze on Saturday, February 9.
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Match stats (Storm v Devils):
Goals, Storm: Dane Byers 1+0, Evan Richardson 1+0, Dallas Erhardt 1+0, Felix-Antoine Poulin 0+2, Mike Hammond 0+1,
Devils: Joey Martin 1+0, Gleason Fournier 0+1, Sean Bentivoglio 0+1.
Period scores (Storm first) 2-0; 0-0 (2-0); 1-0 (3-1).
Penalties in minutes: Storm 4+4+2=10; Devils 2+2+6=10.
Special teams: Storm PK 5/5, PP 0/5; Devils PK 5/5, PP 0/5.
Shots on goal: Storm (on Bowns) 10+8+7=25, Devils (on Ginn) 12+17+11=40.
Stars of the game: Storm, Matt Ginn; Devils, Matt Pope.
Referees: Andrew Miller and Tom Pering.
Elite League results on Saturday: Belfast Giants 6, Coventry Blaze 5; Manchester Storm 3, Cardiff Devils 1; Nottingham Panthers 2, MK Lightning 1; Sheffield Steelers 3, Guildford Flames 2; Fife Flyers 2, Glasgow Clan 2.