A DISASTROUS opening 13 minutes in which Lightning failed to turn up saw them fall four goals behind to a lively Swindon Wildcats at Planet Ice on Saturday night.
A brave comeback was eventually too little too late to save Lightning’s blushes in a 5-4 defeat, before Sunday’s reverse game in Wiltshire was postponed due to the snow and difficult travel conditions.
With Slough Jets picking up wins over Sheffield Steeldogs and Telford Tigers, Lightning have fallen to fifth place in the English Premier League table ahead of this weekend’s fixtures – a home game against table toppers Guildford Flames on Saturday and tough trip to Sheffield the next day.
Defensive errors – or more accurately lack of defending – allowed hotshot Brit Aaron Nell to bag a hat-trick by 12mins 42sec for Swindon, and the same man got the assist on Swede Jonas Hoog’s goal.
Wildcats came out fast and furious and it was not long before Lightning were under pressure with Nell shooting through goalie Alex Mettam’s legs for the opening goal after 4mins 2secs.
Shortly after Nick Chinn wasted a golden opportunity when he was put clear but shot well wide of target. Nell then saw Hoog away to come in from the left-hand side to beat Mettam at 6mins 26secs.
Chinn drew the first penalty of the evening and Mettam was forced into making a good save from Ryan Aldridge while at the other end of the ice Adam Brittle was unable to connect with a rebounding Blaz Emersic effort.
Swindon extended their lead after Lightning returned to full strength – new Finnish import, Henri Sandvik, making his debut, setting up Nell to score from close range after 8mins 29secs.
When a long range blast from Nell beat Mettam for the fourth goal after 12mins 42secs it signalled a timeout from the home side and the goalie’s replacement by Stephen Wall. And he was quickly called into action as Shane Moore and Nell both tested his agility.
Despite the return of Kamil Tvrdek to the side following illness, Lightning were ineffective on the powerplay when Sam Bullas was sin binned for slashing in the 15th minute and thus Swindon had a 4-0 lead at the first break.
Things didn’t improve at the start of the middle session as Swindon added to their advantage with a goal from Matias Perkkio within 1min 22secs of the restart.
That seemed to spark Lightning into upping their intensity and they quickly replied when Leigh Jamieson supplied Emersic for what it has to be said a scrambled goal after 22mins 20secs.
From then on the hosts began to get a grip on the play, if not the score. It took Lightning until 35mins 16secs to score their next goal when Tvrdek came from behind the net to find Emersic to crash the puck home.
Just seven seconds before the end of the middle period, Michael Farn was the provider for a strike from Jamieson and suddenly it was game on at 5-3 to Swindon, with plenty of time for Nick Poole’s men to recover.
Lightning survived an interference penalty on Tvrdek and seconds after he returned to the ice, the Czech made it 5-4 on the powerplay – Bullas serving time for interference.
From then on the home side tried to turn the screw, but they spurned two golden opportunities with five on three powerplays.
On the latter, with Tomas Fojtik and Moore both in the sin bin, Lightning withdrew Wall for the extra skater but still could not score.
And Lightning had no better a chance than when with 4.4secs to go they were awarded a penalty shot after referee Peter Popluhar ruled that the net had been deliberately knocked from its moorings.
Unfortunately, shot taker Emersic fired straight at goalie Thomas Murdy and with it the possibility of overtime and a last gasp win for the home side was gone.
And there was no chance of quick revenge for Lightning the following day as their planned returned game at Swindon was called off due to the hazardous travelling conditions in the snow for both the team and fans.
The rearranged date for the trip has yet to be announced.