MK Lightning came within seconds of reclaiming the Ashes Trophy when they eventually lost to big rivals Peterborough Phantoms in a dramatic penalty shoot-out in Cambridgeshire on Sunday.
It was a cruel blow for Lightning who had staged a magnificent comeback to finish the game 6-6 on aggregate after losing the first leg at MK Arena 4-1 on Saturday.
In a vastly improved performance they led 3-0 at one stage before ending 5-2 on the night. The statutory three penalties apiece failed to separate the sides – both teams managing one successful shot – with the game going to seven shots each before Sam Towner settled the outcome for Phantoms who also won last year.
The Ashes has been a traditional season opener between the two rivals, beginning when former MK captain, Dwayne Newman’s kit was burned on his switch to Phantoms in 2007.
MK were short benched for both games – Przemy Odrobny and Mikolaj Lopuski both on Poland international duty while Tom Carlon and Jordan Cownie were side-lined with injuries.
On Sunday Lightning opened the scoring after 8mins 20secs when Blaz Emersic to defeated goalie Janis Auzins to give his side a 1-0 lead at the interval.
In the second period a big effort from Emersic was blocked but the goalie could not deny Sam Jones on 33mins 58secs to put MK 2-0 up.
Lightning then drew level on aggregate on the powerplay - Jones helping set up Milan Baranyk to score against his old club at 36mins 45secs.
Phantoms replied through Ales Padelek on 37mins 17secs before Lightning’s Lewis Hook scored at 39mins 45secs – giving a 5-5 aggregate score.
Peterborough edged back in front overall after the break with Petr Stepanek’s marker at 43mins 58secs.
Lightning were in no mood to give in and when James Archers was sin binned for tripping in the 49th minute – Frankie Bakrlik registered on 49mins 32secs.
It was the final goal of the night in open play as the game went into a fruitless period of overtime before the penalty shootout.
The previous evening Peterborough were probably deserved winners at MK Arena, giving Lightning with a mountain to climb with two late goals.
Despite that Lightning edged the first period - their confidence given a boost by Craig Scott who seized on the puck to score after Bakrlik’s shot had rebounded off the back boards after 12 mins 39secs.
Earlier there was a scare for the hosts while Bobby Chamberlain was serving a boarding penalty. Stepanek fed Padelek on the blue line and his blast hit the inside of the top of the goal and came down for what appeared to be the opening goal.
Referee Stefan Hogarth ruled the effort out because Phantoms had too many imports on the ice - in addition to Padelek and Stepanek, Darius Pliskauskas was on the powerplay line, together with goalie Janis Auzins. Only three are allowed at any one time.
Phantoms restored the balance of play in the second period and Mario Uhrik got them back in the encounter on 24mins 17secs.
In the final five minutes of the period Stepanek was sin binned for elbows but MK were unable to break through on the powerplay.
Stepanek then made Lightning pay on his return to the ice by putting his side ahead with a long range shot to score on 38mins 18secs - giving Phantoms a 2-1 lead at the second break.
Any hope Lightning had of drawing level was extinguished as Will Weldon set up Padalek for Phantoms’ third goal on 54mins 28secs. Then with 2mins 38secs to go Pliskauskas made it 4-1 to the visitors.
Coach Pete Russell was using the pre-season games to find his best line combinations but he could have well done without the absences of four key players.
Odrobny and Lopuski will be back for this Saturday’s home opening English Premier League game against Bracknell Bees at 7pm but Carlon and Cownie are unlikely to start.