MK Lightning kick started the new year in the best possible way with a well-earned 4-3 victory over Basingstoke Bison which keeps them in the race for the English Premier League title.
Pete Russell’s men are now six points behind leaders Telford Tigers but with two games in hand. Monday’s win against Bison sets up this Saturday’s vital clash with Tigers at MK Arena.
After edging the first period the game appeared to be slipping away from Lightning when Bison went in front for the first time with less than a quarter of an hour to go.
But the deficit did not last long as Craig Scott swiftly restored parity with a finely taken goal before the ever talented Lewis Hook – for some the man of the match – secured the points with just over eight minutes to go.
One inspired piece of play was enough to separate the two outfits at the end of the first period.
James Griffin fed Frankie Bakrlik who cleverly shielded the puck from his Bison marker before making a neat lay off to Blaz Emersic to fire past goalie Tomas Hiadlovsky after 12mins 21secs.
Until that moment there had been little to trouble either netminder - Bakrlik's blast from the blue line going past the post while Lightning were on the powerplay with Declan Balmer sin binned for slashing
The powerplay was ended prematurely with Sam Jones called for interference - Bison's best effort coming from a Ciaran Long set up for Tomas Karpov which goalie Przemy Odrobny dealt with easily.
Back at even strength Craig Scott tried to supply Emersic with a right wing pass but the Slovenian was unable to connect before Derek Roehl played himself through to find a gap to shoot - Odrobny saving with no trouble.
Bakrlik stated Lightning’s intentions with a ninth minute rocket shot which ended up going past the post ahead of attempts by Dan Davies and Karpov before Emersic’s opener.
MK appeared to have added to their tally while Roehl was serving time for hooking Bakrlik in the 15th minute but referee Stephen Matthews ruled a high stick against Hook.
Bison needed an early middle stanza goal to put them back in the encounter but despite Aaron Connolly’s first minute effort they were unable to level until 27mins 17secs when Roehl finished following good work by Connolly and Rene Jarolin.
Hiadlovsky’s goal came under pressure when he was forced into action to stop Hook in his tracks – Glenn Billing on the follow up also denied.
The home side regained the advantage on 34mins 48secs after Milan Baranyk fed Tom Carlon from behind the net. Carlon’s shot was blocked – only for the puck to find its way to man of the match Michael Farn to blast past Hiadlovsky from the blue line.
With a 2-1 lead going into the third session MK were in the driving seat – just. It didn’t last with what appeared to be a bit of a mix up in the defence, leading to Joe Baird supplying scorer Long within 24 seconds of the restart.
After an effective powerplay by MK when Roehl was sin binned for tripping, the encounter seemed to be swinging Bison’s way. They went ahead on 46mins exactly thanks to a Roehl shot which eluded Odrobny.
The goalie had to deal with a Karpov blast before Lightning quickly regained composure with Bakrlik the provider for Scott, skating into the front of goal to beat Hiadlovsky to the left hand side at 47mins 32secs.
A too many men on the ice call on Bison gave MK a vital powerplay on 51mins 1secs. This time they made the most of it – although Antti Hölli appeared to fluff his shot, the puck reached Jordan Cownie for a short pass to Hook to beat the stranded goalie 49seconds into the man advantage.
Lightning played most of the final two minutes a man short thanks to tripping penalty against Farn.
Although Bison withdrew Hiadlovsky for the extra skater with exactly a minute to go MK’s penalty kill unit prevented them from scoring an equaliser.