LIGHTNING have closed the gap on league leaders Guildford Flames, moving into second place in the table after taking four points out of a possible six over the New Year weekend.
Things got off to a bad start with a poor performance at Planet Ice before a bumper crowd of more than 1,400 at Planet Ice on Friday when Nick Poole’s men were outclassed by Manchester Phoenix – and in particular Martin Cingel - in a 4-1 defeat.
But they bounced back in magnificent style to stun Flames with a 6-2 victory at the Spectrum Centre before edging out Swindon Wildcats 2-1 after a penalty shoot out in Wiltshire on Monday.
With three more clashes with Guildford to come before the end of the season much will depend on those games if Lightning’s hopes of repeating their league title success of two seasons ago are to be realised.
However the city outfit had to come back from going a goal down in the first four minutes at Guildford when Nathan Rempel, supplied by Branislav Kvetan, netted on 3mins 59secs.
The visitors’ cause wasn’t helped by the ten minute misconduct penalty handed out to the protesting Leigh Jamieson at the same time with the period ending 1-0 to the Flames.
It was just after the conclusion of an interference penalty on Kvetan that Lightning equalised thanks to a first goal of the campaign by Ross Bowers at 28mins 54secs.
Juraj Gracik who was the provider for Bowers then set up Blaz Emersic to give the away team the lead after 34mins 6secs and from then on Lightning were in the ascendancy, the period ending with no further goals.
Kvetan was the culprit when his cross checking penalty gave a crucial powerplay from which Poole was the supplier for Jamieson to make it 3-1 on 45mins 53secs.
Emersic beat Mark Lee for his second of the night with 8mins 22secs of the third period gone before Flames pulled one back from Milos Melicherik with 5mins 24secs of the game remaining.
But Michael Farn’s quick response with the fifth for his side at 55mins 11secs quelled any Flames comeback and Jamieson rounded off the scoring with his second goal on 56mins 21secs.
As in Guildford the Lightning men had to overcome a 1-0 first period deficit to eventually see off Swindon at the Link Centre – the opening strike as early as 3mins 52secs from Michal Pinc.
The visitors were the better side for long periods but, as so often this season, they had to be patient before making it count, despite outshooting the home side 16-9 in the middle session.
It was not 4mins 10secs into the third period that Lukas Zatopek – assisted by Jamieson and Gracik – finally broke the duck with the leveller.
Wildcats were not going to give in easily though and there was no further score before the end of regulation time – making five minutes overtime necessary. Again no goals were forthcoming so it was down to penalty shots.
Jonas Hoog missed for Wildcats with Emersic converting his attempt before Pinc also failed for his team – giving captain Adam Carr the chance to seal the points, which he duly did.
It was a Cingel treble that possibly proved the deciding factor when Lightning failed to get going against Phoenix.
The Slovak was given far too much space out on the left to score the go ahead goal after 12mins 47secs.
And within three minutes Cingel had the puck in the net again when he took Juraj Faith’s pass to beat goalie Alex Mettam on 15mins 32secs. In truth Lightning’s cause was lost at that stage and things became worse when Slava Koulikov was not closed down for the third goal from distance on 26mins 30secs.
Lightning were battling hard – but to little effect – as their finishing was woeful at times.
They must have wished Cingel was on their team – especially when he completed his hat-trick for Manchester’s fourth after 58mins 31secs.
With the final buzzer looming it looked as though Lightning were about to be shut out for the first time this season – until Emersic spared their blushes with a goal 13.8secs from the end. It was small consolation though on a night not to be remembered.
Lightning will be looking to keep the winning streak going when Telford Tigers visit Planet ice for the final time this season