LIGHTNING suffered a double blow to their English Premier League title ambitions in another weekend of upsets.
Despite losing 6-5 at home to Guildford Flames and then 6-3 at Manchester Phoenix, the city side remain in second spot behind the Surrey outfit who followed their victory at Planet Ice with a 4-3 defeat to Slough Jets.
It all makes for an intriguing final couple of months to the season with the top four sides – Guildford, Lightning, Slough and Manchester – beginning to pull away from the rest of the competition.
Lightning will be looking to get back on track on Saturday when Andre Payette’s Sheffield Steeldogs team are the visitors ahead of a trip to Basingstoke Bison on Sunday.
Saturday’s defeat to Flames was all the more difficult to take because the hosts battled all the way, with the game really only decided by who made the most defensive mistakes. In the end it was Lightning, although Flames will not be entirely happy with a couple of their errors which led to some of the goals.
At Altrincham the following day there was little to choose between the two sides with a 3-3 score going into the second break. But Phoenix forged ahead in the third and Lightning were unable to provide any answer to Tony Hand’s teams three goals.
The Flames clash was played before the biggest crowd at Planet Ice for a long time – the official attendance of 1,505 seeing an exhilarating battle on a night to remember, despite the result not going the way that the majority wanted.
Leigh Jamieson got Lightning off to an excellent start when he capitalised on a Guildford defensive mistake and found himself had enough time and space to beat goalie Mark Lee with a high shot after 6mins 32secs.
However, just two minutes later Flames hit back with a powerplay strike when Michael Wales, back after injury, was penalised for interference.
David Longstaff set up Rick Plant and his shot beat goalie Alex Mettam on 8mins 22secs much to the delight of around 100 travelling Flames fans.
Guildford then took the lead immediately after a Lightning powerplay as the hosts were caught on the offensive with David Savage putting Nathan Rempel clear. Tom Norton tried in vain to catch him, but he scored on 16mins 38secs.
Seven minutes 2secs into the second session Lightning levelled on a powerplay when Adam Carr crashed the puck home from Blaz Emersic’s behind the net pass.
But parity didn’t last long as Plant struck again almost straight away for Flames at 27mins 24secs – taking the puck across the face of goal before scoring.
Flames then made it 4-2 after Mettam saved well but failed to hold a Plant shot – Matt Towe following up at 32mins 32secs.
Again Lightning struck back with Juraj Gracik touching in a Michael Farn long range shot on a powerplay at 36mins 28secs to give the hosts hope.
And Jamieson gave Lightning the prospect of winning when he equalised just 14secs into the third period. But the Lightning defence was lacking again when Plant completed his hat-trick on 41mins 46secs.
Lightning quickly replied as Carr smashed a rocket shot into the goal after 43mins 51secs, but Flames soon grabbed what proved to be the game winning goal thanks to David Longstaff from close in at 45mins 31secs.
The next day Lightning had no answer to Manchester’s three goals in the third period after running the hosts close in the first two sessions.
Former Lightning man James Archer was the supplier for Tom Duggan to score Phoenix’s first goal on 1min 36secs, before Lightning captain Carr quickly replied unassisted after 2mins 51secs.
Twice the home side had unsuccessful powerplay chances, but they were able to register short-handed with Josh Ward in the penalty box – Duggan bagging another to make it 2-1 to Phoenix after 16mins 43secs.
It took until 25mins 4secs for Lightning to level on the powerplay as Leigh Jamieson set up Gracik. But as on the previous evening it didn’t take Manchester long to go in front once more, Juraj Faith hitting the target after 29mins 25secs before Grant McPherson’s goal made it 3-3 on 30mins 44secs.
Phoenix took the lead again after 44mins 35secs through Ben Wood, with further goals from Jaroslav Spelda at 47mins 55secs and Harabin on 51mins 29secs for a 6-3 score, and this time Lightning had no reply.
>> MK Thunder went down 3-1 to in form Bracknell Hornets on Sunday after a disappointing performance on home ice that keeps them sixth in the English League Division One South.
After a goalless first period, Hornets’ player coach Danny Hughes evaded the Thunder defence to race clear and beat Dave Cassidy for the opening goal as the visitors created far more scoring opportunities.
Man of the match Jamie Randall grabbed an equaliser for Thunder four minutes later as he netted a rare short handed goal to leave the match finely poised going in to the last period.
But despite creating more chances in the final frame, a quick double salvo from the visitors sunk Thunder.
First Alan Lack was able to coast through the home defence to restore the Hornets’ lead, before Tony Barclay doubled the advantage just 40 seconds later.
Despite several scrambles around the Hornets goal in the closing minutes, Thunder were simply unable to find a way through and were left empty handed at the final buzzer.