Four points out of a possible six have cemented MK Lightning’s fourth place in the English Premier League – and kept alive their hopes of overhauling Manchester Phoenix for third spot.
And for once Lightning beat teams below them in the table, while just being edged out by title chasing Guildford Flames in a thrilling encounter at Planet Ice on Saturday.
With big defenceman Lukas Zatopek again ruled out with leg nerve damage, player coach Nick Poole joined the action for the 2-1 win at Swindon Wildcats on Thursday.
And he had an almost immediate impact on the game, scoring the opening goal after 9mins 4secs from Kamil Tvrdek and Janne Jokila – probably the first ever all regular import line in Lightning’s history!
There was no further score until 23 seconds into the third session when Blaz Emersic set up Leigh Jamieson to make it 2-0. Swindon pulled a goal back after 45mins 24sec when Henri Sandvik netted but the home side couldn’t find the goal again despite pulling goalie Dean Skinns for the extra skater in the final 30 seconds.
Fans expected a fast moving game of skilful hockey when Guildford visited the city on Saturday – and they were not disappointed. For the newcomers taking advantage of a ticket promotion with Network Rail and a local school, it could hardly have been a better introduction to the sport, even though Lightning lost 3-2.
Zatopek’s continued absence was covered by both forwards Nick Chinn and Adam Carr in defence while Poole again started with Tvrdek and Jokila – giving three settled lines for once.
Early on both Jamieson and Jokila both had quick shots saved by goalie Mark Lee before Neil Liddiard came to Flames’ rescue with a goal line block from a Tvrdek effort as the netminder was left stranded.
There was an anxious moment as Andrew Hemmings raced clear with Chinn unable to match his pace, but goalie Alex Mettam thwarted him. As Flames stepped up the pressure, Branislav Kvetan twice brought good saves out of Mettam.
The goalie though was unable to do anything when Flames’ player coach Paul Dixon blasted in David Longstaff’s swift pass back on 15mins 47secs – the teams four on four at the time. Tvrdek almost levelled within a minute but Lee stood firm.
Within 41seconds of the restart Lightning were back on terms – Emersic went up the left and made a perfect pass for Jamieson to turn past the goalie and then Jokila went close from a Tvrdek set up.
A Lightning powerplay when Stuart Potts was called for holding saw a Tvrdek shot rebound off Lee, but there was no one there to follow up.
Flames retook the lead on quick counter attack when Kvetan sent Jozef Kohut away for a shot from inside the blue line after 34mins 14secs.
The lead was extended as Lightning were caught by the combined force of Jan Melicherik and Curtis Huppe with only one defenceman, Ross Green, in situ as Michael Farn was unable to get back in time. Melicherik supplied Huppe for a fine shot to beat Mettam at 38mins 54secs.
As the third period passed it looked increasingly unlikely that Lightning would get anything out of the game despite their best efforts. But then hopes were suddenly raised when captain Adam Carr blasted home on the powerplay at 52mins 19secs while Jez Lundin was serving two minutes for tripping Ross Bowers only eight seconds earlier.
However, it was a false dawn with Lee not to be beaten again despite Lightning withdrawing Mettam for the extra skater in the final 48 seconds.
Lightning’s energy levels were put to the test with their third game in four days as they visited Telford Tigers on Sunday. But they came through with a 3-2 win after sudden death penalty shots.
There were no penalties and no goals in a relatively quiet first period and the first score did not come until Scott McKenzie found the net for the home side from Tomas Karpov after 27mins 54secs.
The lead did not last long though – despite Telford having a ‘goal’ disallowed in the 33rd minute for the net being off its moorings.
Lightning equalised shortly after on 35mins 30secs with a short handed goal from Emersic, assisted by Jamieson and Farn. But Telford soon made amends to go in at the second break 2-1 ahead with Tim Burrows scoring after 38mins 22secs.
An unassisted Chinn goal after 45mins 53secs put Lightning level again, and from then on in there was no further score in regulation or overtime.
Three penalty shots each failed to separate the side and it took sudden death penalties to give Lightning the two points, with Carr bagging the decisive strike.