Vital four point weekend for Lightning

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MK Lightning bagged their first four point weekend since before Christmas to close the gap on third place in the English Premier League.

And they could hardly have chosen a better time to take maximum points with two away victories - 3-2 at second placed Basingstoke Bison on Saturday - followed by a 4-1 win on Sunday at Guildford Flames who occupy third spot in the table.

With league leaders Manchester Phoenix crashing 6-3 at home to the resurgent Telford Tigers on Sunday it means there are now just five points separating the top four sides and there is still all to play for as the league heads into the final stretch of the season.

Although Bison outshot Lightning 11-7 in the first period in Hampshire it was the visitors who went in at the first break with a 1-0 lead thanks to a Lewis Christie goal - his first of the campaign - struck at 10mins 45secs and assisted by Blaz Emersic.

The game marked the 500th EPL appearance by former Lightning favourite Michael Wales, now playing for Bison but still living in the Milton Keynes area. He was given a warm reception by the travelling fans.

Captain Adam Carr hit a second goal for Lightning on 26mins exactly when he was given free reign to skate in on goalie Dean Skinns and shoot high into the goal after good set up work by Leigh Jamieson and Stan Lascek.

Bison got one back on 36mins 43secs thanks to determined work by Tomas Karpov who saw his first shot blocked by netminder Stephen Wall. Karpov seized on the rebound but again he was denied, only to put the puck in at third attempt.

Bison’s Joe Greener was penalised for charging right on the second buzzer and that was to prove costly for the home side with Lukas Zatopek and Janne Jokila having a hand when Grant McPherson made it 3-1 on the powerplay at 41mins 19secs.

A pass from Bison player coach Doug Sheppard was fired home by Aaron Connolly on 55mins 10secs after Lightning successfully survived a short handed spell with Michael Farn sin binned for tripping.

Bison piled on the pressure as the clock counted down - withdrawing Skinns for the extra skater in the final 30secs or so - but they could find no way past Wall as Lightning held on for the 3-2 win.

The following night at the Spectrum Centre the hosts found themselves heavily outshot 15-8 by Lightning in the first period but despite that there was no score in the opening 20 minutes and just two penalties, both falling to the visitors.

Lightning took control in the second session with three goals in less than five minutes - the first an unassisted Jokila strike on 25mins exactly.

Nineteen seconds later Flames’ new import Martin Opatovsky was thrown out of the encounter on a five minute plus game penalty for a high stick on Farn which drew blood - fortunately the MK man was able to return to the ice shortly after.

The penalty was to be crucial as Lightning made the most of it - scoring twice.

The first came from the stick of Carr, assisted by Zatopek and Jordan Cownie at 26mins 53secs while before the five minute powerplay was up Flames were reduced to three skaters when Neil Liddiard was penalised for slashing. Lightning took full advantage with Jokila setting up Tom Carlon for goal number three at 29mins 22secs.

That’s the way it stayed at the second break and if Flames thought things would get better in the third, they were wrong.

Incredibly Lightning were able to stretch their lead to four goals as Carlon struck for a second time on 46mins 52secs - Jokila and Zatopek making the play for him.

It was not until Flames had their third powerplay of the night that they were able to break their duck with Wall’s net finally breached at 56mins precisely by Bransilav Kvetan to make it 4-1.