Quarter finals await after Lightning pick-up back-to-back wins

Lightning vs Coventry.
Pic: Tony Sargent
Lightning vs Coventry. Pic: Tony Sargent

Milton Keynes Lightning are through to the quarter finals of the Challenge Cup in their first season in the Elite League following a dramatic overtime victory after penalty shots on Sunday.

The 3-2 win at Guildford Flames secured Lightning top spot in their qualification group after winning five of their six games. The quarter finals will be played on a home and away two leg format.

Lightning vs Coventry.
Pic: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Coventry. Pic: Tony Sargent

Twenty four hours earlier Lightning despatched Coventry Blaze with a 5-1 win at MK Arena.

Lightning clinched the win at Guildford with the fifth sudden death penalty shot when Francis Verreault-Paul defeated netminder Chris Carrozzi – moments after MK stopper Miika Wiikman had saved Carl Ackered’s attempt.

Wiikman’s efforts during both the shoot-out and earlier in the game earned him man of the match for the second night in succession.

There was an early blow for Lightning when Kruise Reddick set up John Dunbar to put Guildford in front after only 28 seconds, ahead of Ackered sitting the first penalty in the third minute after being caught holding Guillaume Doucet while he was advancing on goal.

Lightning vs Coventry.
Pic: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Coventry. Pic: Tony Sargent

Flames’ penalty kill units held firm to deny MK a powerplay equaliser while there was no score when Jonathan Boxill was sidelined by referee Stefan Hogarth for delaying the game in the sixth minute.

A middle stanza powerplay eventually produced the opening for Kyle Essery to tip in a Quin Pompi blue line blast to level the tallies on 31mins 15secs.

Verreault-Paul made the supply for Doucet to put Lightning in front after 43mins 33secs – the Canadian scorer soon in the penalty box for slashing in a series of infractions by both teams’ players.

It was not until Matt Nickerson was sent to the cooler for cross checking in the 55th minute that Flames registered on the powerplay – the scorer again being Dunbar.

Lightning vs Coventry.
Pic: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Coventry. Pic: Tony Sargent

With no further score the encounter entered overtime which again proved fruitless in terms of a winner, so it was down to penalty shots.

Lightning had the early edge when Kearney put them 1-0 in front after the first round but Brett Ferguson retrieved the situation for Flames in the best of three shoot-out to force sudden death shots, eventually decided by Verreault-Paul on the fifth attempts.

Against Coventry the hosts hardly deserved to be 2-0 in front at the first break with the visitors dominating the play as goalie Miika Wiikman denied Blaze on several occasions in the first 20 minutes.

It was only in the second half of the game that Lightning stamped their authority on the clash.

The encounter was often a fractious affair with Lightning’s Matt Nickerson and Blaze’s Danick Paquette both sitting five minute majors for fighting at the end of the first session.

Nickerson got his marching orders in the 34th minute for a second offence – this time for a check from behind.

Quin Pompi fired Lightning ahead on 5mins 19secs with blue line blast through traffic which eluded goalie Kevin Nastiuk.

After Blaze’s Ben Lake was sin binned for hooking the visitors Jordan Pietrus broke away with Carl Hudson closing him down illegally by slashing him. That resulted in a penalty shot which Wiikman blocked to maintain Lightning’s advantage.

Blaze were made to pay for several misses when Ben Foster registered unassisted on 17mins 7secs for a 2-0 lead.

After the impressive Paul Phillips had his early second period effort blocked Marc-Olivier Vallerand danced his way up the left only to shoot wide before Lightning struck again.

Ben Foster blasted the puck towards goal only for it to rebound off the boards behind the target for the razor sharp Phillips to net on 25mins 31secs before Nastiuk had chance to see the puck.

If Blaze were the better of the two sides then they lost that position as the game went on.

It was only after Nickerson was expelled for a checking from behind in the 34th minute that Blaze scored through Luke Ferrara who finished off for a powerplay goal on 38mins 10secs.

At 3-1 going into the final period it was still anybody’s game but Lightning but a penalty call on Vallerand for holding James Griffin proved to Blaze’s undoing as Denny Kearney played the puck across the face of goal for Guillaume Doucet to rifle into the net on the powerplay at 46mins 1secs.

Verreault-Paul was the provider for Kearney to finish off Blaze with a fifth goal on 52mins 6secs.