Lightning finish with a whimper before play-offs

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LIGHTNING are looking for a rapid change in fortunes as they go into the championship play-offs this weekend straight on the back of a five match losing streak.

They ended their English Premier League season with a double dose of 4-3 defeats against Basingstoke Bison on Saturday and then Slough Jets the following day.

At Basingstoke Lightning went 2-0 ahead early on, only to lose out after Bison fought back. Then on Sunday they had just themselves to blame after they dramatically threw away a 3-0 advantage inside the opening 25 minutes before eventually going down in a penalty shoot out.

That Bison defeat was the second time in six days that the Hampshire outfit had seen off Nick Poole’s team in league action - a very concerning fact as Lightning now face them in the home and away play-off quarter final match up this weekend.

Leigh Jamieson fired the city side ahead against Jets after 8mins 58secs when he sent Andre Smulter away up the left wing. The Finn returned the pass to him to shoot high over goalie Gregg Rockman’s shoulder.

That was the only goal of the first period at Planet Ince, and one which referee Dave Cloutman was content to let the play flow with no penalties being called. In fact there were none until the 31st minute.

By that stage of the evening the hosts were three goals to the good - a long range Lukas Zatopek blast, set up by Michael Wales, beat Rockman on 24mins 13secs. And before Slough - who were actually resting several key players ahead of their own play-off showdown - had time recover from that, Blaz Emersic was Lightning’s provider for Gary Clarke to increase the gap 46 seconds later.

When Jan Krajicek was caught out hooking Jamie Line, Jets were down to four skaters. But, after soaking up some pressure from Lightning, they broke out of defence for Joe Greener to supply Doug Sheppard to begin the fightback at 33mins 5secs.

Lightning were shocked and failed to mark Shaun Thompson at the left post just five minutes later, and were made to pay when he converted Joe Greener’s pass after 38mins 18secs as the visitors scored to get back in with a chance.

Within 2mins 36secs of the start of the third session Jets were level as Lightning failed to clear their own zone properly - the puck played out to Thompson in space to shoot past goalie Barry Hollyhead.

The remaining minutes produced no further goals - and neither did the five minutes of overtime so it was all down to a penalty shoot-out in which Darius Pliskauskas got the winner for Jets. He was the only one of six penalty takers to score.

At Basingstoke things started well when Michael Farn set up Jamieson for a powerplay goal on 8mins 44secs while Callum Best was in the sin bin for hooking.

However, Lightning couldn’t take advantage of any further powerplays with the first session ending 1-0, but they did net again when Farn fired in the second goal from Gary Clarke at 25mins 13secs on the powerplay. But it didn’t take long for Bison to reply when Viktor Kubenko lashed home unassisted just 45 seconds later.

Lightning held on with a 2-1 lead at the second interval but then Bison turned the game on its head thanks to two further Kubenko strikes in 27 seconds at the beginning of the third session. The first came after just 18 seconds - again unassisted - and the second on 40mins 43secs.

The home team had a five on three powerplay when Ciaran Long struck their fourth goal at 43mins exactly to make it 4-2 and their the visitors with a mountain to climb.

As Lightning battled to get back in the match they withdrew Hollyhead for the extra skater, and that enabled Monir Kalgoum to score their third goal 50 seconds from time. But that wasn’t enough and they couldn’t get an equaliser to force overtime.

Lightning will host Basingstoke in the first leg of their quarter final tie on Saturday at 7pm, before going to Hampshire for the return game the next day at 5.30pm.

Lightning may have lost their last two against Bison, but did win three of their four meetings earlier in the season, including a 5-0 home win in November. Bison finished the regular season fourth and Lightning fifth, so it should make for an action packed hockey double-header.