FANS were left scratching their heads after Lightning impressed to beat English Premier League champions-elect Guildford Flames on Saturday, but went down to two lower table sides over the weekend.
On Friday the city side – currently fifth in the league – threw away a 5-2 lead as they failed to cope with a third session onslaught by Swindon Wildcats who eventually won 6-5.
Lightning had only lost to Telford-based teams – Tigers and their predecessors Wild Foxes – three times since their formation a decade ago. And with Tigers holding up the league in bottom spot a routine win in Shropshire looked in prospect on Sunday.
But after holding the visitors to 0-0 for two periods it was Adam Brittle’s brother Luke who edged the hosts in front. And he then sealed Tigers’ win with an empty net strike 16 seconds from the buzzer to cap a disappointing night for Nick Poole’s men.
Twenty four hours earlier things looked so different when Lightning excelled to defeat Guildford 3-1 at Planet Ice with an excellent display, delaying the Surrey side’s crowning as champions by a day.
This weekend they will be hoping to put the losses behind them with two games which, on paper, they are more than capable of winning.
Peterborough Phantoms, who overtook Bracknell Bees in the race for the final play off place on Sunday, visit on Saturday before Lightning go to Bees – a side they beat 6-4 a couple of weeks ago – on Sunday.
Lightning started Friday’s encounter with Swindon at The Link Centre missing captain Adam Carr through injury and the suspended Grant McPherson. They fell a goal in arrears when Jaroslav Cesky supplied Michal Pinc to put the puck beyond goalie Alex Mettam.
Then a hooking penalty on Lewis Christie gave the home outfit the chance to double their advantage through Aaron Nell.
That stirred Lightning into action as they replied with a Michael Wales assisted goal by Leigh Jamieson to end the first period 2-1 down.
And it was in the middle session that the visitors got to work, destroying Wildcats with four unanswered goals in less than eight minutes to take control of the game.
First Tuomas Tikkanen set up Jamieson to make it 2-2 – while Paul Swindlehurst was in the sin bin for hooking – and then the roles were reversed when Jamieson was the provider for Tikkanen to register.
Lightning had a five on three advantage for their fourth goal – and on this occasion Jamieson got the assist on a Lukas Zatopek blast to score.
Sam Bullas and Shane Moore were then both in the sin bin when Lightning made it 5-2 as Tikkanen scored his second goal of the day from a Michael Farn set up.
Swindon gave themselves a glimmer of hope before the break with the first of three Jonas Hoog goals. And Hoog was then on the mark to give the visiting army of fans cause for concern with 7mins 41secs remaining and they had even more to worry about when a Wildcats’ goal was washed out, before Hoog eventually equalised at 53mins 9secs.
With 40 seconds left to the buzzer, Nell smashed in the winner for Wildcats, sending Lightning fans home disappointed and angry.
In the light of that result, many fans were in trepidation of Flames’ visit to Planet Ice the next day.
But after neither team was able to make much of an impression in the first session, it was Lightning who went in front when Jamie Line tipped in a Zatopek blue line slapshot after 27mins 21secs.
At that stage of the game referee Roman Szucs had incredibly not called for a single penalty – preferring to let the game flow despite a number of minor infringements.
But he soon gave Flames a man advantage when Christie was called for tripping a few seconds after the goal. Despite that Flames could not find a route to goal and the home side ended the period on a high when Wales supplied Towalski whose shot went into the corner of the net – despite not seeming to have much power behind it.
One more goal was needed to seal the points and Lightning got it when Brittle was the provider for Blaz Emersic – allowed to go across the face of goal before converting.
Flames got a late consolation goal through Ben Campbell, but that was too late to make a difference as Lightning celebrated arguably their best win of the season. Little did they know what was to come at Telford.