Lightning look almost certain to end the season in fourth place in the English Premier League after another win one, lose one weekend in which they twice did battle with second in the table Basingstoke Bison.
Nick Poole’s side came out on top with a 3-2 victory in Hampshire on Saturday night, but they couldn’t repeat the result at Planet Ice on Sunday when Bison ran out 3-1 winners. Both games were close affairs in which the result could have gone either way.
Saturday’s win briefly elevated Lightning into third spot as Manchester Phoenix went down 8-2 in a shock loss at Telford Tigers. But Phoenix went back above them thanks to a 3-2 success over Sheffield Steeldogs.
Sunday’s encounter with Bison was played in the knowledge that it would probably be one of the last games played in Milton Keynes for more than a year, with the long awaited rink refurbishment programme due to start in the summer.
But that did not affect either the players or the atmosphere in the crowd, with much of the detail of when and where Lightning will be able to play home games next year still to be finalised. Coventry’s Skydome is favourite but there are bound to be limitations on ice time for games.
At Basingstoke there was nothing to choose from between the two teams at the end of the first period with both netminders, Alex Mettam and Stevie Lyle, keeping out all shot at them.
Powerplays were at a premium as well with two for Lightning and one for Bison after Chris Wiggins was ejected from the game for boarding.
The first goal did not come until 28mins 17secs when Bison player coach Doug Sheppard finally beat Mettam. But just over a minute later at 29mins 48secs it was all square with Connor Goode getting his first assist for the senior side as Nick Chinn fired home.
Once more Bison edged ahead at 31mins 52secs as Joe Miller set up Greg Chambers.Less than a minute later Lightning levelled – this time Goode went one better with his first goal in the black and gold, assisted by Chinn and Michael Farn.
Czech forward Kamil Tvrdek was forced to retire from the action during the second period and he did not ice in the third – an injury which also kept him out of Sunday’s line up.
The absence did not stop Lightning finally going in front for the first time with Janne ‘The Magician’ Jokila grabbing the goal on 48mins 6secs.
It was a lead that Lightning were not to surrender – even when Lyle was withdrawn for the extra skater in the dying moments.
It was a case of déjà vu in the return game 24 hours later – certainly in terms of the first period score which remained at 0-0 at the break.
This time though it was Lightning who were first off the mark when a Bison defensive error allowed Adam Brittle space to take Adam Carr’s pass and fire high over Lyle’s shoulder on 25mins 4secs.
Bison’s Cameron Wynn was penalised for tripping in the 28th minute but the powerplay didn’t last long – Chinn called for interference only 10 seconds.
Four seconds after Wynn returned to the ice he set up Bison’s equaliser with Miller the scorer on 31mins 12secs as Chinn had hardly had time to leave the penalty box.
The game was evenly poised going into the third session with both sides capable of winning.
But the match started to slip away from Lightning on 43mins 32secs when Joe Greener deflected a blue line blast from Alex Symonds past goalie Stephen Wall whose vision of the puck was obscured by players until the last moment.
It was a delay of the game penalty on Ross Green – hitting the puck over the plexiglas – that provided Bison with the powerplay chance which decided the result. Once more Greener was the scorer – putting the puck in at the right post from Chambers’ supply.
In the last five minutes or so Jokila had the puck in the net from long range, but the ‘goal’ was disallowed as the net was clearly off its moorings before it crossed the goal line. Whether the net was deliberately moved was open to debate – referee Tim Pickett did not think so with no penalty given.
In the event it mattered little with Bison holding on to a two-goal advantage which will almost certainly secure them the runners-up spot behind Guildford Flames, who were crowned league champions by virtue of Lightning’s win on Saturday. That was despite Flames going down 2-1 to Sheffield the same night.