Lopuski's return inspires MK Lightning to four-point weekend

Mikolaj Lopuski.
Pic: Tony Sargent
Mikolaj Lopuski. Pic: Tony Sargent

Mikolaj Lopuski returned to the MK Lightning line up for the first time in more than four months against Swindon Wildcats on Saturday - and he made an immediate impact.

After scoring the team's second goal which fired their third period revival he went on to score on MK's first attempt in a penalty shoot-out before Antti Hölli's successful effort to secure a 4-3 win.

Lightning vs Swindon. Pics: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Swindon. Pics: Tony Sargent

Lopuski's inclusion after his long injury was greeted with a massive cheer by the Lightning faithful. His return meant that Milan Baranyk became the import to be rested - MK now having six fit imports and league rules allowing only five to be iced in any game.

The following day Lopuski, being eased back in gently, was rested with Baranyk back in the line-up against his old club, Peterborough Phantoms – an encounter which MK won 4-1.

Meanwhile Lightning have filled the gap in their fixture list left by the recent demise of Manchester Phoenix by arranging a home game against Elite League side Manchester Storm, on Wednesday February 22 at 7.30pm. It will give coach Pete Russell the chance to see how his team matches up before the planned move to the Elite competition next season.

Lightning opened the scoring against Wildcats with a short-handed goal while Luc Johnson was serving time for a high stick offence.

Lightning vs Swindon. Pics: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Swindon. Pics: Tony Sargent

Blaz Emersic fed Craig Scott on a break-away, going up the left with the return pass being directed past goalie Stevie Lyle at 18mins 34secs.

Lightning's joy was short lived with Phil Hill setting up Robin Kovar to fire in the equaliser 34 seconds from the first break.

In the middle period Swindon edged ahead on 31mins 3secs with an unfortunate goal. Netminder Przemy Odrobny saved Kovar's shot with his glove and clearly had control of the puck before he fell back across his goal line - referee Tim Pickett not blowing his whistle until he had done so.

Wildcats added to their score 1min 25secs into the third period when Malasinski poked the puck home.

Lightning vs Swindon. Pics: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Swindon. Pics: Tony Sargent

Then Lopuski came to centre stage. Fed by captain Adam Carr from the left he smashed the puck high into the net to cut the gap on 43mins 46secs.

Going into the final minutes of regulation time Lightning upped the gas and it was from a moment of confusion that Frankie Bakrlik found Scott at the left hand side of goal to snatch the equaliser on 56mins 9secs.

That sent the game into overtime with penalties sealed by Lopuski’s and Hölli’s strikes.

A brace of Bakrlik goals – one on an empty net – ensured MK Lightning gained revenge on Peterborough Phantoms at Bretton on Sunday.

Lightning vs Swindon. Pics: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Swindon. Pics: Tony Sargent

A fortnight or so before Lightning succumbed to their biggest rivals in a 3-2 loss at MK Arena. Russell’s charges opened the scoring through Lewis Hook on 15mins 42secs to give the visitors a 1-0 at the first break.

Phantoms were without their first choice netminder Janis Auzins who was being rested to recover from a muscle strain – Adam Long taking over between the pipes.

Hook was the first player to visit the penalty box when he was called by referee Matt Thompson for hooking at 6mins 30secs.

Lightning survived the short-handed spell and in the following minutes tested Long with shots from Ed Knaggs and Michael Farn while a further attempt by Hölli went wide.

On the powerplay with Marc Levers sin binned on 13mins 7secs for tripping Emersic it was the Finn who went closest with a shot that was off target.

Eventually Phantoms’ resistance cracked as Hook put MK ahead on 15mins 42secs.

Before the first break Phantoms were given a golden opportunity to level with Leigh Jamieson (roughing) and Farn (tripping) both in the penalty box at the same time. But the two man advantage was reduced to one as Edgars Bebris was quickly penalised for interference.

MK doubled their advantage through Bakrlik, assisted by Emersic, after 33mins 48secs, shortly before Baranyk was given his marching orders on a match penalty for a high stick offence causing a facial injury to James Ferrara.

But the five minute powerplay reaped no reward for Phantoms. They had to wait until 2mins 57secs into the final period before Owen Griffiths beat Odrobny one on one.

Lightning soon restored the two goal lead with Johnson registering his second assist of the campaign in helping defenceman Lewis Christie score his second goal this year at 45mins 1sec to make it 3-1.

Peterborough coach Slava Koulikov called a time out with just over two minutes remaining and withdrew Long for the extra skater.

It was a move which backfired because Bakrlik was able to score on the empty net less at 58mins 48secs to secure a 4-1 win.