LIGHTNING stunned English Premier League leaders Guildford Flames with a battling performance to claim a 2-1 victory at Planet Ice on Saturday night.
The city side took a 2-0 lead before Flames hit back with a late reply to set up a tense ending, but they managed to hold on for the two points.
However, Lightning’s poor away form continued on Sunday night when they went down 3-2 at Sheffield Steeldogs – suffering further injuries in the process of a fifth consecutive defeat on the road that keeps them fifth in the table.
Lightning gave a debut to new Finnish import Janne Jokila against Guildford on Saturday – signed as a replacement for player/coach Nick Poole who shocked fans with his decision to hang up his skates two days earlier to concentrate on coaching.
But the home team were without influential captain Adam Carr who injured his hip the previous weekend – joining long-term injured Chris Wiggins on the sidelines.
That necessitated another change in the Lightning lines, with Jokila slotting in on the first line alongside Nick Chinn and Kamil Tvrdek, while Leigh Jamieson, Blaz Emersic and Adam Brittle formed their second line, as Ross Bowers and Grant McPherson were joined on the third by Connor Goode.
Jokila, who hadn’t played for about a year due to an injury, showed some quite neat touches with the puck but, understandably, having not trained with his new team-mates – and after flying into the country on Friday – there was some lack of cohesion.
Lightning were forced to defend two short handed spells early on with Jamieson penalised for hooking and then Lukas Zatopek for slashing, but the closest Flames came to opening the scoring was when Branislav Kvetan forced a good save from goalie Stephen Wall with a blue line effort.
There was little to choose between the two outfits in the first period so it was no surprise that they went in at the break all square at 0-0.
Kvetan ended the period in the sin bin for interference and he was soon joined by team-mate David Longstaff for hooking just over a minute into the second session.
That gave Lightning a five on three powerplay and they made the most of it as Jokila got his first assist for his new team, starting the move in which Jamieson supplied Michael Farn for a blue line rocket which totally eluded netminder Mark Lee at 21mins 35secs.
Once back at full strength Flames sought to get back in the game with Nathan Rempel forcing a good save by Wall before Ross Green tried his luck from the blue line. Tvrdek then set up Jokila for a shot which Lee did well to block.
As Jokila bedded into the team he held the puck up well before making a pass to Tvrdek who was unable to make the right connection. In the final three minutes of the period, Emersic almost had the puck in the net from close in at the right pipe.
The final period saw Flames trying desperately for an equaliser and man of the match Wall had to be on his best form to deny Nathan Rempel.
There were no more goals though until Jamieson put the speedy Brittle away to go one on one with Lee and beat him with a high shot for Lightning’s second goal at 55mins 45secs.
That looked enough to secure victory but when Curtis Huppe fired in from the blue line after 58mins 27secs, while his team had a five on three powerplay, it led to an anxious final 93 seconds.
At Sheffield the next day, the first period was less than 10 minutes old when Chinn was forced to retire injured.
And before the session was finished both Steeldogs’ player/coach Andre Payette and Lightning’s Jamieson had been thrown out of the game.
Payette elbowed Lewis Christie, so Jamieson responded in defence of his team-mate and the Sheffield player was ejected on a match penalty for resisting an official while his opponent was given five minutes plus game for roughing.
From the resulting powerplay, Farn put Lightning ahead for the second time in the weekend, with Jokila and Emersic getting the assists at 19mins 31secs.
The lead did not last long though as Steeldogs’ Andrew Hirst struck back, unassisted, 1min 23secs into the middle session. And that proved to be the only goal of a period in which both sides had powerplay chances but were unable to capitalise on their advantages.
Lightning suffered an early blow in the final period when Edgars Bebris supplied Hirst for his second goal of the game after 41mins 29secs.
Lightning’s fate was finally sealed with a third Sheffield goal – a powerplay effort from Lloyd Gibson after 50mins 24secs.
The visitors did get one back when Tvrdek converted Emersic’s set up, but it was all they could manage.
Next up for Lightning is a home game with Peterborough Phantoms on Saturday night before a trip to Guildford on Sunday.