AN extraordinary error by Swindon Wildcats gifted MK Lightning a vital third goal in the dying minutes of their English Premier League and Cup clash at Planet Ice on Sunday.
With Lightning 2-0 ahead the visitors withdrew goalie Dean Skinns 1min 10secs from the final buzzer – and then iced the puck from their defensive zone to the other end of the rink.
That necessitated a face-off in Swindon’s defensive zone. As they attempted to change lines – bringing Skinns back on – referee Joy Tottman correctly prevented them from doing so, being in contravention of the rules of the game.
As a consequence, Wildcats faced off without their goalie in situ. Although they did manage to clear the puck, Lightning’s Lukas Zatopek intercepted and fired into the empty net for his team’s third goal of the night.
Zatopek’s goal ensured his team of their first four-point weekend in a month – Lightning having seen off Wildcats 6-3 at the Link Centre on Saturday night.
The double success will be a relief to player coach Nick Poole and the club’s management – coming at the end of a trying seven days following the broken hip sustained by top import Adam Calder.
Calder’s absence forced yet another change in the lines by Poole. This weekend Adam Brittle and Leigh Jamieson joined Blaz Emersic on the first line, with Nick Chinn moving to the second to partner Adam Carr and Poole.
Ross Bowers had a regular spot on the third line with Chris Wiggins and Grant McPherson, while youngster Connor Goode was also given a few shifts.
And for once the switches proved a success as Lightning raced to a 4-0 lead in Swindon before the home side got on the scoresheet.
It was the Carr, Poole and Chinn combination that got Lightning off the mark at 3mins 52secs – captain Carr bagging the goal.
And their lead was swiftly doubled when Brittle and Jamieson set up Emersic to make it 2-0 on 5mins 29secs, prompting an exceptionally early time out by the home side.
Although Wildcats outshot the city outfit in the first period they had nothing to show for their efforts, and it took just 1min 31secs of the middle session for Poole, from Zatopek and Chinn, to make it 3-0.
Skinns had to be temporarily replaced between the pipes by back-up goalie Graeme Bird after taking a puck to the throat. But Lightning showed no mercy, and before Skinns returned they added a fourth goal through Lewis Christie.
With Skinns back in goal the hosts ended Lightning goalie Alex Mettam’s chance of a shut out with their first strike on 34mins 44secs thanks to Aaron Nell.
By the time Swindon got their second – again Nell on the mark at 53mins 12secs – Poole’s men were 6-1 ahead following goals from Chinn at 42mins 33secs and Emersic on 49mins 26secs.
Wildcats got their third goal through Nicky Watt, assisted by Nell, with 1min 49secs remaining – only after Lightning had a goal disallowed for having a man in the crease.
Lightning were unable to get in front as quickly in the return game on Sunday, but they did lead 1-0 at the first break as Jamieson supplied Emersic to defeat Skinns with 19 seconds to the buzzer.
The city team had plenty of chances to score before that, with Skinns under intense pressure in the eighth minute as Brittle passed to Emersic for a blocked shot before Jamieson also had an unsuccessful attempt. Brittle then weighed in with a shot, but again he was thwarted by the netminder.
At the other end, Seven Whitfield broke down the left but was robbed by Michael Farn and Jan Melichar’s shot hit the outside of the post.
Mettam had to be alert to block Jonas Hoog straight from face-off in the second period, but then Lightning swung into gear with Bowers and Wiggins going close before Brittle’s shot was pushed over the bar.
The third line were eventually rewarded when McPherson fed Wiggins in front of the net for the second goal at 25mins 55secs.
When Poole was called for hooking a minute or so later, Swindon were unable to capitalise and Lightning could do no better when they had two powerplays in four minutes.
The home side did get the puck in the net from an impossible angle just before the interval – so impossible in fact that the referee rightly decided it entered through a hole in the side netting!
The third period, by comparison, was a quiet affair with Swindon offering little and Lightning content to keep control of their lead until the late opportunity which gave Zatopek his empty net goal to round off proceedings.
Lightning will have to step up a gear though if they are to beat Slough Jets at Planet Ice on Wednesday night – face-off is at 7.30pm.