Johnson on target as Lightning power past Swindon Wildcats in first play-off game

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Luc Johnson grabbed his first goal of the season as Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning started their championship play-off group campaign in perfect style with a comfortable 5-1 victory over Swindon Wildcats at MK Arena on Wednesday.

Swindon suffered the loss of first choice netminder Stevie Lyle before the game had even got under way. The former Great Britain stopper went on for the warm-up but retired to the changing room before the tie began – his place being taken by Michael Crisp.

Robin Kovar twice attempted to put Wildcats back in the game in the fifth minute but was denied on both occasions by netminder Przemy Odrobny before the visitors were reduced to four skaters after Neil Liddiard was penalised for holding on 6mins 28secs, having hauled down Blaz Emersic.

However MK were unable to find their way into the danger zone often enough to trouble Crisp on the powerplay.

Lightning did put the puck in the net when Tomasz Malasinski was serving time for slashing on 13mins 39secs but referee Dave Cloutman rightly judged it was knocked in by a body and not a stick.

In a game largely devoid of penalties Stephen Whitfield served the last two minute call on 18mins 40secs for cross checking. Although Lewis Hook went close to adding to Lightning’s total his shot was blocked by the goalie.

The second period was just 30 seconds old when Jordan Cownie produced a shot which Crisp only just managed to save.

The stopper could do nothing though to stop Lightning going further in front a couple of minutes later after Phil Hill had fired wide of target for Swindon and Malasinski saw his shot taken in the chest by Odrobny.

Antti Hölli made the pass for Craig Scott to lift the puck up over Crisp on 23mins 26secs to make it 2-0. The goalie hardly had time to recover before Hölli was again involved as Lewis Christie set up Lewis Hook to extend the lead even further 28 seconds later.

Even though Swindon coach Aaron Nell called an immediate timeout, from then on there was only going to be one winner with Lightning rarely threatened despite Kovar shooting over the bar soon after play restarted.

Bakrlik’s blast in the 27th minute hit the metalwork before Mikolaj Lopuski shot over the crossbar. Great work by James Neil cut out a Kovar advance up the left before a Max Birbraer attempt was plucked out of the air by Odrobny.

A fierce effort from Emersic was saved by Crisp shortly before Lightning made it 4-0 on 34mins 58secs – Adam Carr supplying Lopuski from the right for a goal from close range.

Swindon’s goal was a touch fortuitous – Emersic went in pursuit of Kovar and prevented him from getting a good shot on goal and with Odrobny committed the puck ran loose for Malasinski to put it into what was effectively an empty net at 38mins 42secs.

But that slip up aside, Wildcats were unable to produce any serious threat to the outcome of the game which was over as a contest by the time the third period began – not that stopped Bakrlik, Hölli and Emersic all trying their hand in the opening minutes.

Possibly the loudest applause though went to young Johnson as he broke his duck for the season. Lopuski went up the left and crossed for Glenn Billing to knock the puck to Johnson who was able to lift it into the left hand side of goal on 50mins 21secs for Lightning’s fifth of the evening.

Buoyed by that success Johnson went close to adding his second a little while later – being given two bites at the cherry but not being able to repeat his success.

It proved to be the final goal of the game despite Hölli and Neil both testing Crisp late in the encounter.