LIGHTNING secured their place in the English Premier League Cup semi-finals with a hard fought victory over Slough Jets on Sunday at Planet Ice.
The encounter which was also a league game saw Lightning take a 4-0 lead before the half way mark, only for Jets to fight back to tie the clash by the 44th minute.
However Juraj Gracik sealed the points when he turned in a Leigh Jamieson pass for a powerplay goal with 8mins 4secs remaining to make it 5-4.
It made up for the disappointment of a 3-1 loss at Slough the previous evening – that game did not count for cup table points, Lightning having already won the game that did 3-1 in October.
There is now just one cup qualifying game to play – at Manchester Phoenix on Sunday – with Lightning already assured of first or second place, the leading four sides going into the semi finals.
Before that Lightning host Swindon Wildcats on Saturday at Planet Ice, face off 7pm.
Nick Poole put his side in front after 12mins 16secs on Sunday – the credit for setting up the goal going to Adam Brittle who split the Slough defence with some great stick work.
Jets’ goalie Greg Rockman was beaten again after 15mins 44secs when he only partly blocked Blaz Emersic’s fierce effort. The puck stopped agonisingly close to the goal line before Leigh Jamieson finished off.
Slough’s Joe Greener was serving the first of several penalties when Adam Carr was the provider for Poole to shoot first time into the back of the net to make it 3-0 at 17mins 52secs.
Lightning were unable to repeat the powerplay feat a couple of minutes later when Doug Sheppard was caught boarding Emersic – the penalty continuing in the second session.
But they did add to their tally when Emersic blasted in a quick fire shot after taking Brittle’s behind the net pass on 27mins 25secs.
Slough’s response was swift, signalling the start of their fightback, with Ryan Watt putting Adam Calder away to defeat goalie Alex Mettam only 29 seconds later.
Jets cut the gap again after 28mins 50secs on the powerplay as Sheppard tipped in a Calder blue line blast.
At this stage Slough had the momentum with them and they gave the home fans further cause for concern when Calder made it 4-3 after 35mins 8secs with a shot which Mettam first appeared to have covered.
It was almost inevitable that Jets’ pressure would pay off with an equalising goal after 44mins 14secs while Lewis Christie was in the sin bin for holding. Joe Greener was the supplier for Darias Pliskauskas to score from a narrow angle.
Lightning were not finished though and they made sure of the win with another powerplay goal of their own from Gracik on 51mins 56secs.
At The Hangar the previous night Lightning survived two early penalties before earning one of their own. But despite that the first period ended goalless.
That all changed within 1min 44secs of the restart when Brittle was the supplier for Poole to put the Milton Keynes men ahead.
Any hope of further quick goals were dashed though in an increasingly niggly second session in which neither side was at full strength for long.
It was not until the third session though that Jets managed to get back in the game as Watt was the provider for Calder to shoot home thanks to a nasty deflection off Carr after 42mins 37secs.
Just over two minutes later – at 44mins 44secs – Pliskauskas’ pass was sent home by Watt to put the Berkshire outfit in front.
Lightning possibly only had themselves to blame for their poor powerplay work a few minutes later when they twice had the extra man but couldn’t make it count.
With 1min 10secs left the visitors called a timeout and replaced Mettam with the extra out skater.
The move backfired though with former Lightning favourite Mindy Kieras scoring on the empty net at 59mins 36secs.
There was a few moments of drama seconds from the end of the game with Matt Towalski and Watt exchanging blows in a fight which earned them both four minutes for roughing.
Lightning take on Swindon Wildcats at Planet Ice on Saturday, before travelling to Manchester Phoenix on Sunday.