Five points from a possible six kept MK Lightning in the hunt for the English Premier League title at the weekend.
But in reality the point lost in the overtime defeat at Swindon Wildcats could prove costly with league leaders Telford Tigers coming from behind in both of their weekend encounters to claim maximum points.
On Friday at MK Arena Lightning saw off hastily arranged opponents Basingstoke Bison 2-1 in a thrilling battle. Manchester Phoenix were due to visit but the club lost its battle to find new investors and folded three days before.
The demise of Phoenix has led to the rearrangement of a number of games with the result that for the first time in more than a decade the final of the English Premier League Cup will be played over two weekends. The away leg will be played at Peterborough on Sunday March 12 with the return the following Saturday, March 18.
Lewis Hook provided a lifeline to send Saturday’s match at The Link Centre into overtime – only for Toms Rutkis to seal a 2-1 win for Swindon in the extra period.
There was no such slip-up at Sheffield Steeldogs when Lightning smashed in six goals before the hosts got off the mark – the game ending 8-3.
The Bison clash marked the debut of former Manchester defenceman James Neil who was snapped up to replace fellow d-man Sam Jones. He has been ruled out for the rest of the season by injury.
And Neil did not take long to get his name on the scoresheet with an assist on Lightning’s opening goal by Hook after 35mins 56secs – the other helper going to Jordan Cownie.
Less than two minutes later Lightning added a second goal when Tom Carlon fed Milan Baranyk in the neutral zone and he sped up the left to beat Bison netminder Tomas Hiadlovsky with a high shot to the right at 37mins 37secs.
Despite being outshot in the third period the hosts looked capable of soaking up any pressure from the visitors – especially with the Great Wall of Milton Keynes – Przemy Odrobny – turning away anything fired at him in the net.
Odrobny was finally caught out by a Ciaran Long goal with 4mins 23secs remaining – providing for a tense finish during which Bison attempted, but failed, to withdraw Hiadlovsky for the extra skater with a minute to go. Eventually was able to come off with 28 seconds left – too late to make a difference.
At Swindon the home outfit took a 1-0 lead into the second break after Lewis Christie received a match penalty – later downgraded to five minutes plus game – for a high stick on Jonas Höög. That gave Wildcats an extended powerplay from which Ben Nethersall scored on 28mins 17secs.
It took until 53mins 58secs for Hook to come up with an equaliser to send the clash into overtime – Swindon then sealing the win with Rutkis’ strike 1min 47secs into the extra five minutes.
There was no such difficulty finding the net at iceSheffield 24 hours later with James Griffin registering after 7mins 5secs and captain Adam Carr taking his tally for the season into double figures on 8mins 46secs. Still stunned Steeldogs were hit with a third goal on 10mins 4secs – this time from the stick of Frankie Bakrlik.
Bakrlik who went on to hit a hat-trick bagged his second goal before the first break – set up by Michael Farn on 17mins 6secs to give MK a four goal cushion.
The middle stanza was just 1min 9secs old when Antti Hölli got in on the scoring act – twice within the space of two minutes. The first was an even handed strike and the second a powerplay goal on 22mins 55secs after Steeldogs’ Tomas Brcko was penalised for tripping.
Steeldogs scored through a powerplay goal by Stan Lascek at 31mins 48secs but there was a swift reply from the visitors as Milan Baranyk made it 7-1 on 32mins 37secs before Bakrlik completed his trio after 33mins 36secs.
The comfortable margin allowed Lightning to rest Odrobny for the rest of the game – his place being taken by back-up youngster, Jordan Hedley.
Hedley who has seen hardly any ice time this season quickly conceded to Lascek almost straight from the start of the third period before Steeldogs’ top scorer Arnoldas Bosas round off the scoring with 2mins 31secs remaining.