A spirited fightback from Milton Keynes Lightning in the end proved to be in vain when they went down by the odd goal in nine against Cardiff Devils, at Planet Ice on Sunday.
It was Lightning’s only game of the weekend and the omens were not good when Devils grabbed the lead within the first two minutes and then raced to a 4-0 lead before the half way mark. The hosts cut the gap in the Challenge Cup clash to three in the 31st minute, only for the Welsh outfit to re-establish a four goal lead just over a minute later.
However from then on it was Doug McKay’s side who were making all the running, refusing to give up as they gave Devils a scare with a fourth goal scored just over three minutes from the buzzer. In the end though, they were unable to level and force overtime.
The game was just 1min 12secs old when Georgs Golovkovs was given two minutes in the cooler for tripping. Cardiff said thanks very much when the influential Mike Hedden was able to supply Joey Haddad to beat goalie Patrick Killeen for the opening strike on the powerplay at 1min 54secs.
Lightning fans feared the worst with memories of the 9-1 loss inflicted at Ice Arena Wales a month ago still fresh in their minds and the remainder of the first period did little to dispel that worry – Devils outshooting them 14-3.
Devils goalie Thomas Murdy kept Lightning at bay in the eighth minute but there was little else to bother him, even when the hosts had a 14th minute powerplay following a hooking penalty on Stephen Dixon.
The home side had the worst possible start to the second session when Charles Linglet made it 2-0 to the visitors within 39 seconds – the supply coming from Bryce Reddick.
And things didn’t get any better as Matt Pope made the pass for Sean Bentivoglio to put in the back of the net after 26mins 17secs. It then looked as though it was truly game over thanks to Devil’s fourth strike less than two minutes later, Craig Moore and Haddad involved as captain Jake Morissette fired in at 28mins 43secs.
There was finally some joy for the home faithful as Eric Neiley and Golovkovs combined to provide the opening for Andreas Valdix to claw back a goal after 31mins 41secs – only for Devils’ Hedden to extinguish that when set up by Linglet 1min 7secs later.
But Lightning were again given some kind of hope when Nelson Armstrong capitalised on a hooking penalty called on Gleason Fournier to score his first goal for Lightning on the powerplay after 36mins 32secs – Golovkovs the provider.
The shots on goal looked a little brighter in the second period as well with Lightning having the advantage at 13-10, despite only having two goals to show for it.
The home outfit were unable to find a way through with the extra man in the first 1min 59secs of the final session – Joey Martin serving time for delaying the game – and after seeing off a tripping penalty on Cole Shudra they were suddenly back in the game as Tim Wallace and Golovkovs were involved in Valdix’s second of the night at 47mins 10secs.
The determination was there even when faced with a five on three period – Eric Neiley (tripping) and Armstrong (two minute plus 10 for a check to the head) with Cardiff failing to make the most of it.
Neiley redeemed himself with Lightning’s fourth goal on 56mins 40secs and suddenly home fans were dreaming of a last gasp escape. Sadly it was not to be as Devils grabbed both points to ensure a place in the Challenge Cup quarter finals.
It’s back to Elite League action for Lightning when they face Belfast Giants twice at Planet Ice on Friday at 7.30pm and on Saturday at 7pm before returning to Challenge Cup duties on Sunday with a trip to Coventry Blaze at 5.15pm.