IT TOOK nearly four hours and four games but Lightning finally ended their scoring dearth against Sheffield Steeldogs to win 3-1 at Planet Ice on Saturday.
Lightning had last beaten the South Yorkshire outfit at the end of November when Lewis Christie’s 39th minute strike sealed the points. But since then Sheffield had shut Lightning out in three consecutive encounters – including the English Premier League Cup semi finals over two legs.
So there was a massive sense of relief when Adam Carr’s dogged determination in front of the net eventually broke the city side’s duck 23mins 22secs into Saturday’s clash – especially as Sheffield had struck through Lloyd Gibson after just 1min 3secs.
But Nick Poole’s men had to wait until the final session for the goals by Tuomas Tikkanen and Blaz Emersic to give them maximum points.
Unfortunately Lightning could not repeat the victory in the return at iceSheffield the next day – but at least they were not shut out with Michael Farn hitting the net in the 3-1 loss.
Lightning will be looking to get back on a winning run with Bracknell Bees visiting Milton Keynes on Saturday and a road trip to Peterborough Phantoms on Sunday.
Bees and Phantoms are now battling it out for the last end of season play-off position so both will be putting up a strong fight – Lightning have beaten the Berkshire outfit three times out of four this year but never by more than two goals, while Phantoms will be desperate to avenge the 9-3 humiliation handed out just a fortnight ago.
On Saturday it was a quick counter attack by Steeldogs with Edgar Bebris feeding Gibson that saw them take the lead at Planet Ice with a shot that gave goalie Alex Mettam no chance after 63seconds.
There was further drama when Leigh Jamieson took out Steeldogs’ so called hard man Andre Payette with what looked to be a legal body check before four minutes had elapsed.
After Jamieson initially went to the penalty box, referee Matt Thompson then ejected him on a check to the head penalty. Meanwhile Payette had to be escorted off the ice with what appeared to be a knee injury! He took no further part in the game and did not emerge from the locker room until the start of the second period.
Lightning ended the first session on a powerplay as Craig Elliot was penalised for interference 34 seconds before the break. However, despite plenty of pressure the hosts were unable to beat goalie Ben Bowns until they were back at even strength – Poole making a short pass for Carr to slot home at the left post 3mins 22secs after the restart.
Having been heavily outshot in the first period, the goal sparked Lightning into renewed efforts and it was they who had more shots on target in the middle period – without reward.
The go ahead goal when it came though was a superb one as Matt Towalski found Tikkanen in space and he broke away to beat Bowns with a great shot high into the net after 44mins 54secs.
Steeldogs realised they were staring defeat in the face and they stepped up a gear with Mettam facing rubber on numerous occasions. But he proved to be on top form thwarting every attempt.
And the game was eventually sealed when Steeldogs were reduced to four skaters as Greg Wood was sin binned for hooking – Poole set up Emersic to score after 56mins 54secs.
Steeldogs withdrew Bowns for the extra skater with less than 90 seconds remaining but they could find no way through. In fact Tikkanen could have had a fourth goal had his shot on the empty net not crossed the line until a split second after the final buzzer.
The next day Steeldogs took until 18mins 53secs to go ahead through Gibson and end the period 1-0 in front.
By that time Lightning’s Grant McPherson and Lewis Bell had both been ejected for roughing – the visitors already missing suspended Jamieson and the ill Michael Wales. And there was a further blow for Lightning when Janis Ozolins doubled the home side’s lead on 22mins 10secs.
The remainder of the period became increasingly niggly with neither team at full strength for long as penalty after penalty was dished out by referee Steve Brown.
With 14mins 2secs of the game remaining Lightning were given hope of a late charge after Tikkanen supplied Farn to score. But Ozolins bagged his second of the night on 52mins 16secs to ensure there would be no late disappointment for the home fans.
All that means Lightning sit fifth in the EPL table and there’s a good chance they will meet Steeldogs again in the play-off quarter finals as they look to book their place in Coventry.