Lightning are Coventry-bound after Tigers play-off joy

Lightning vs Telford. Pic: Tony Sargent
Lightning vs Telford. Pic: Tony Sargent

MK Lightning are on their way to the English Premier League play-off finals weekend at Coventry after stunning Telford Tigers with a 7-2 aggregate victory in the quarter finals.

Lightning gave themselves every chance of qualification with a 3-1 win at MK Arena on Saturday and 24 hours later they went one better with a 4-1 result in the second leg in Shropshire.

Lightning vs Telford. Pic: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Telford. Pic: Tony Sargent

They will line up against Basingstoke Bison in the first semi final at Coventry Skydome on Saturday, facing off at 1pm, while Peterborough Phantoms and Guildford Flames will do battle in the other game starting at 5pm.

Taking a two goal advantage to Telford the city side kept things tight in a 0-0 first period –surviving a five on three powerplay - before making Tigers’ task almost impossible with two quick strikes for a 5-1 aggregate lead early in the second session. The home side responded quickly with a goal of their own but that was as good as it got for them and Bobby Chamberlain rounded off the win with an empty net goal at 58mins 33secs.

Adam Carr supplied Martti Jarventie to make it 1-0 on the night after 25mins 7secs.

The massive travelling army were given further cause for joy when Frankie Bakrlik and Jordan Cownie had a hand as Blaz Emersic beat netminder Sam Gospel for goal number two 41 seconds later.

Lightning vs Telford. Pic: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Telford. Pic: Tony Sargent

Just 1min 4secs later MK goalie Dean Skinns was beaten for the only time as Jason Silverthorn and Sam Zajac combined to set up Max Birbraer to reduce the deficit.

Lightning continued to press with shots from Markku Tahtinen, Lewis Hook and Emersic before Zajac’s long shot was deflected high.

Chamberlain, Jarventie and Emersic all had chances with Tigers trying to reply as Skinns negated an Andrei Makrov attempt.

Tigers incurred a penalty when Macauley Heywood was given two minutes for hooking and, on the powerplay, Jarventie had his first goal bid blocked by Birbraer and then saw Gospel get in the way of his next shot.

Lightning vs Telford. Pic: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Telford. Pic: Tony Sargent

Lightning were in the driving seat going into the third session - 5-2 on aggregate leaders - and they were not going to let Tigers back into the game. Emersic put paid to any hopes they had with MK third’s goal of the game after 43mins 16secs, assisted by Bakrlik.

Peter Szabo shot straight at man of the match Skinns who was on top form throughout while Gospel stopped a Cownie effort shortly after.

Going into the final seven minutes referee Tim Pickett washed out a Tigers ‘goal’ as Leigh Jamieson was sent to the cooler for hooking at 53mins 58secs. But there was no way through for Tigers, despite having the extra man.

With just over three minutes remaining Gospel was withdrawn for the additional skater as Tigers’ coach Tom Watkins made one last throw of the dice. The move backfired - Hook sent Chamberlain away to score on the empty net to make it 4-1 and 7-2 on aggregate.

The previous evening Lightning set out their intentions from the face off – taking the game to Telford straight away

The hosts fully deserved to go in front after exerting lots of early pressure and when they did it was a well taken goal by Bakrlik from close range following Emersic’s set up at 17mins 19secs.

The goal only served to wake up Telford as the lead only lasted a minute a half or so as Blahoslav Novak was provider for the Jonathan Weaver to rifle home a powerblast high into goal at 19 mins 1sec for a 1-1 score at the first break.

Pete Russell’s men carried on where they left off as the second stanza got under way and they were soon rewarded with Grant McPherson getting the final touch to a James Griffin drive towards goal to put MK back in front at 22mins 12secs.

Lewis Hook then went up the left and round the net to find a gap beyond the goalie for the third goal on 27mins 1secs.

The first penalty of the game did not come until Jarventie was sin binned for holding the opponent’s stick in the 31st minute.

But it failed to give Tigers the opening they needed with the home penalty kill unit defending the short-handed spell like their lives depended on it.

The final period saw Gospel save a Hook shot and then deny Cownie from an Emersic set up.

Skinns made it look easy with a glove save from a Macauley Heywood blue line attempt and then the netminder pushed away a Makrov shot.

Tigers’ coach Tom Watkins called a time out with just over two minutes remaining but it failed to provide the spark for the visitors.