Lightning edging closer to top spot

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MK Lightning have edged closer to the top of the English Premier League following a fantastic weekend double victory over Guildford Flames.

With leaders Basingstoke Bison losing twice at the weekend Lightning are now just two points behind them – albeit the Hampshire outfit have two games in hand.

Lightning won both games against Flames 3-2 – at the Spectrum Centre coming back from 2-0 down to snatch the points with a Frankie Bakrlik goal with just over six minutes remaining. It stretched their unbeaten run on the road to six games – the last loss coming in November at Bison.

A superb shot on the turn from Markku Tahtinen sealed a well-deserved victory for Lightning in Saturday’s five goal thriller at MK Arena.

The match was a perfect advertisement for the sport, both sides produced some high quality hockey.

Guildford drew first blood – literally – when Andy McKinney’s high stick on Michael Farn’s face led to bleeding. McKinney was dealt a match penalty after 7mins 25secs, almost immediately downgraded to game when the MK defenceman was able to return to action.

On the resulting five minute powerplay Lightning edged ahead when James Griffin looped the puck around Guildford’s debuting import goalie, Richard Ullberg on 9mins 7secs.

It was not long before Griffin was assessed an elbows penalty on Flames’ Ben Campbell but it was later changed to checking to the head. Campbell was taken to hospital and played no further part so Griffin’s match penalty was not downgraded, meaning that he could not play the following day.

Given a five minute man advantage Flames broke through when Lightning’s penalty kill unit was drawn to the right of goal and Matic Kralj was able to pass across the face of goal for Jens Eriksson, in space, to fire past netminder Dean Skinns on 16mins 24secs.

Lightning retook the lead 35 seconds from the first interval when Lewis Hook crossed for Bakrlik to get a touch before Blaz Emersic finished off with a fantastic rocket into the net.

Flames had the perfect start to the middle stanza when Tom Duggan’s shot seemed to catch Skinns off guard at 22mins exactly.

But the visitors were soon behind again when Jordan Cownie and Farn had a hand in Tahtinen’s strike at 23mins 10secs.

Flames could find no way through when Bakrlik was sin binned for holding after 24mins 7secs and back at full strength captain Adam Carr blasted in a shot which was saved but not held by Ullberg before Eriksson’s effort was taken by Skinns with his glove, but also not captured.

The travellers’ best chance to level things up came when Ross Green was penalised for tripping in the final minute of the second session. But the Flames’ powerplay came to nothing.

The final ten minutes saw Lightning playing some of their best defensive hockey of the campaign – mostly in the neutral zone where their forechecking frustrated Flames’ offence time after time and they were reduced to trying shots from long range.

On Sunday Guildford took a two goal lead by the 27th minute before a second half of the game revival by Lightning.

Campbell was sufficiently recovered to take his place in the opposition line up.

Guildford’s Ullberg denied Bakrlik a chance of scoring before Carr was sent to the cooler for tripping on 14mins 9secs.

That provided the opening for Flames to take the lead when Eriksson set up Jez Lundin to beat Skinns on the powerplay at 14mins 24secs.

The MK powerplay lines were unable to make anything of the opportunity when Duggan was side-lined on a tripping call just 14 seconds into the second period.

Lightning fell further behind on 27mins 55secs as McKinney and Duggan got the assists on a Janis Ozolins strike.

Just after half the half way stage of the game Lightning coach Pete Russell called a timeout and it provided the spark which saw Tahtinen supply Farn to cut the deficit on 32mins 35secs.

Lightning got the breakthrough in the third period when Hook was the provider for Emersic. The Slovenian raced up the ice and fired in the equaliser with a shot which Ullberg got a touch to but couldn’t stop from going over the line at 45mins 14secs.

The travellers finally edged ahead with Hook and Leigh Jamieson having a hand as Bakrlik beat Ullberg after 53mins 37secs.

With 50 seconds remaining Ullberg – for the second night running – was withdrawn for the extra skater but once more Flames were denied the chance of a late leveller.

On Wednesday Lightning go to Peterborough Phantoms for the second leg of the English Premier League Cup semi final – the scores tied 3-3 from the first game in Milton Keynes last week. Face off is 7.45pm.