Guildford Flames’ powerplay units wrecked Mk Lightning’s hopes of finishing their season on the highest possible style with a 6-2 victory in the championship play-off final at Coventry Skydome on Sunday.
The Surrey side scored from four of their six spells with at least one extra skater to end Lightning’s hopes in a game which was otherwise fairly even before a packed Skydome arena.
Lightning had beaten league champions Basingstoke Bison 2-1 in a penalty shoot-out in the semi-final at the arena the previous day.
However the omens were not good going into the final – no team finishing outside the top four in the league – Lightning ended fifth – had ever lifted the play-off trophy.
But Lightning cast all that aside and for the first quarter of an hour there was little to choose between the sides. They kept out Flames when Bobby Chamberlain was penalised for tripping after 1min 16secs – goalie Dean Skinns making a fine save from Danny Meyers before Lewis Hook broke away, only to see his stick break when taking a shot.
The decisive moments came after Markku Tahtinen was ruled to have hooked Marcus Kristofferson in the 14th minute. - that allowed Kevin Phillips to crash the puck Skinns at 16mins 23secs.
Less than a minute later Jordan Cownie was penalised for hooking on 16mins 23secs and within 12 seconds he was joined by Tahtinen who was caught holding Matic Kralj.
Defending five on three Lightning’s defence cracked with Kralj scoring Flames’ second goal at 18mins 45secs to give Guildford a 2-0 lead at the first break.
As the middle session got underway MK’s Bobby Chamberlain set up Lewis Hook for a shot which just failed to reach target and then Frankie Bakrlik put netminder Richard Ullberg under pressure at the left pipe.
Lightning were given a powerplay when Lee Esders was sin binned for tripping Cownie on 26mins 20secs but there was no breakthrough.
Life got even tougher for MK when Tom Duggan made it 3-0 at 30mins 16secs.
There was a glimmer of hope before the second buzzer with Bakrlik finishing off from Cownie and James Griffin on 38mins 4secs.
A powerplay for Lightning on 42mins 42secs proved fruitless before a bench minor penalty for too many men at 50mins 34secs killed hopes of a late comeback.
On the powerplay Janis Ozolins found Danny Meyers unmarked to score on 51mins 5secs.
Back at full strength MK took 2mins 15secs to respond with their second goal - Michael Farn blasting in from the blue line and Tahtinen and then Hook credited with getting touches.
Within 19 seconds Flames hit back with goal number five - Andrew Hemmings the scorer.
Flames registered their sixth strike by Ben Campbell on the powerplay at 56mins 7secs - Griffin in the sin bin for delaying the game.
Despite the result Lightning could hold their heads high. Two weeks before many fans doubted whether they would make the finals weekend. To not only do that but reach the final was something to be proud of.
The previous day Lightning shocked Bison with a tenacious performance sealed by Bobby Chamberlain’s penalty shoot-out strike after the teams were tied 1-1 at the end of overtime.
Leigh Jamieson who put Lightning ahead on 46mins 56secs was voted man of the match but for many MK supporters the accolade should have gone to goalie Dean Skinns.
He kept Lightning in the game in the first ten minutes as his team mates made a slow start. But once they got into their stride there was little to choose between them and the league champions.
Skinns made some super saves when Farn was called for kneeing with 2mins 39secs gone. Bison piled on the pressure but Skinns remained solid.
Lightning produced their best effort so far when Cownie tried to shoot but the puck took a strange bounce away.
When Joe Greener was sin binned for tripping Bakrlik on 26mins 36secs MK’s best hope was snuffed out as Miroslav Vantroba cut out an Adam Carr pass.
Tahtinen went for cross checking after 31mins 32secs but still Bison couldn’t break through.
Hiadlovsky’s resolve was broken after Farn’s pass out of defence was met by Grant McPherson. He advanced up the right and crossed to Jamieson who fired high into the goal a despite falling under challenge from his Bison marker.
Lightning’s joy was short lived and Jamieson had a part to play in Bison’s powerplay equaliser as he was in the sin bin on a diving penalty - with Greener poking in at 49mins 30secs.
Two minutes later Bakrlik’s involvement in the game ended when he was assessed two minutes plus 10 for a check to the head of Kurt Reynolds and two minutes for roughing.
It ruled Bakrlik out of the penalty shoot-out by a matter of seconds. In the end it didn’t matter as Chamberlain sent Bison to defeat.