Milton Keynes Lightning again drew a blank as they went down in both of their Elite League weekend encounters – losing 4-1 to league champions in waiting, Cardiff Devils, and then being edged out 4-3 Coventry Blaze.
On Saturday three Cardiff Devils goals in less than five second period minutes wrecked any outside hope Smith Recycling Lightning had of pulling off a shock at MK Arena.
Devils’ class – and the fact that they iced almost four complete forward lines against Lightning’s three – told in the end, despite the home outfit battling hard until the end.
Lightning welcomed netminder Miika Wiikman back to the line up – albeit as back-up to the impressive Henry Pacl – but were missing influential defender Paul Phillips in addition to Kyle Essery and Tommy Mele.
Without the strength in depth of the Welsh team, Lightning always looked set to struggle and it was partly due to the fine performance of man of the match Pacl that the game remained goalless at the first break – the Czech stopper the far busier of the two netminders.
Peter Russell’s charges that ended the goalless first session defending a two minute penalty after Evan Stoflet was consigned to the cooler with 17 seconds left for slashing.
Lightning saw off the short-handed spell extending into the second stanza and then, against the run of play, stunned their opponents with the opening goal on 22mins 11secs when Christian Isackson fed Kearney at the right hand side of goal to turn in his pass.
The hosts couldn’t add to their tally as Bryce Reddick was caught slashing – there was plenty of pressure but too few shots on goal. It was to prove costly a while later when Andrew Hotham set up Sean Bentivoglio for a shot which gave Pacl no chance as went high to his left on 33mins 40secs.
Cardiff took the lead for the first time less than four minutes later in unfortunate circumstances after a poor Lightning pass was intercepted by Joey Martin. His shot was redirected into the net by James Griffin – much to his annoyance – on 37mins 2secs.
After 38mins 36secs Devils stretched their advantage to two when Reddick supplied Strachan for a blue line thunderbolt which Pacl wouldn’t have seen until it was too late.
To their credit Lightning refused to lie down in the third period and, in terms of shots on goal, it was their best as they produced as many in that period, ten, as they did in the first two periods combined.
However it failed to produce any goals with Devils able to add just one more to their tally after Justin Faryna fed Joey Haddad from behind the goal line to fire home at 53mins 38secs.
There was further disappointment at Coventry the next day when Blaze took an early two goal lead before Lightning levelled, only to fall behind again before the first break.
Netminder Miika Wiikman returned to the Lightning goal for the first time since being ruled out with concussion against Nottingham Panthers three weeks earlier – Henry Pacl taking on the back-up duties. Essery and Mele were again ruled out through injury but Phillips returned.
Wiikman was soon called into action, facing an early burst of shots from Blaze before conceding a goal to Gaelan Patterson on 1min 27secs.
Blaze made it 2-0 when Kevin King was given two minutes in the cooler for abuse of an official – doubling their advantage on the resulting powerplay when Brett Robinson fired past Wiikman at 8mins 9secs.
Within seconds James Griffin visited the Lightning penalty bench for delaying the game. But it was the travellers who came off best short-handed as Denny Kearney shot past goalie Kevin Nastiuk at 10mins 32secs.
Buoyed by that goal Lightning drew level just over two minutes afterwards when Carl Hudson hit his first of the evening on 12mins 57secs.
MK ended the first session a goal in arrears after Francis Verreault-Paul was sidelined a minute from the break for cross-checking. This time the scorer was recent recruit Alex Barron on 19mins 45secs.
Blaze edged further in front when Barron bagged his second goal at 37mins 47secs.
It was a third period interference call against Vojtech Kloz that provided the opening for Hudson to cut the deficit to one goal after 51mins 29secs.
The hosts had a golden opportunity to extend the lead again going into the final five minutes but Wiikman denied them, saving Marc-Olivier Vallerand’s penalty shot.
Blaze were then kept at bay as Kearney was sin binned for cross-checking shortly afterwards and with no further score the hosts claimed the narrow victory.