Milton Keynes Lightning’s long wait for a win came to an end with a superb, battling performance against Patton Conference rivals Coventry Blaze at MK Arena on Saturday.
After the disappointment of losing the previous five games – including eight periods without scoring at home – Lightning finally got ‘the monkey off their back’ when Denny Kearney registered from close range to equalise 1min 33secs into the final period – threatening to raise the roof of the arena, such was the noise.
But Lightning could not repeat the experience in the return game at Coventry the next day when they went down 6-4 in a continuation of their poor away form.
On Saturday from the moment Kearney struck, Lightning always looked the more likely winners. And so it proved as they went in front with another Kearney strike and they then capped a rousing performance with an empty net goal from captain Kevin King with 50 seconds remaining to seal a 3-1 victory.
Earlier though it looked as though it might be one of those nights when, for all their effort, Lightning would not be able to score.
Coventry’s go ahead goal on 16mins 15secs was the result of a weak shot from Ryan Dingle which somehow eluded goalie Miika Wiikman.
The home side ended the session with a four minute powerplay after Dax Lauwers was penalised for a high stick on Kyle Essery which drew blood from his mouth.
Lightning couldn’t capitalise on the chance though but as the period went on they stepped up the gas with the Blaze net coming under intense pressure.
There was an ugly moment when Vojtech Kloz brought Essery down, the MK man clutching his right knee, midway through the period. The big Blaze defencemen received two minutes for kneeing while the MK man played no further part in the game. Neither played the following day, Kloz being handed a three match suspension and Essery was injured
The incident incensed both the partisan home fans and Essery’s team mates so it was little surprise that within a couple of minutes Tommy Mele dropped the gloves to do battle with Kloz – both receiving five minutes for fighting.
However the score remained 1-0 to Blaze at the second intermission.
That quickly changed as Kearney rifled the puck in to the right of Nastiuk on 41mins 33secs – the relief was palpable both among the home supporters and the team.
With one second left of a five on three powerplay Kearney struck again at 48mins 2secs.
Blaze goalie Kevin Nastiuk was withdrawn in favour of the extra skater with 1min 4secs left – a move which quickly backfired when Christian Isackson supplied King to score on the empty net six seconds later.
At Coventry the next night Blaze opened the scoring after 14mins 31secs when Adam Courchaine registered.
By the first break though Lightning were back level, Francis Verreault-Paul setting up Kearney for his 10th goal of the campaign on the powerplay at 19mins 39secs.
Lightning were made to pay as Guillaume Doucet was caught slashing in the 25th minute – Blaze edging ahead again on the powerplay through Ryan Dingle on 26mins 1sec.
Blaze then stretched the lead to two after Matt Nickerson was sent to the cooler for interference – again it was Dingle on the mark at 32mins 3secs.
Lightning cut the gap to one 20 seconds before the second interval as King was provider for Isackson’s one time shot while Ben Lake was serving time for slashing.
However with the break over it was back to business for Blaze who added their fourth at 41mins 54secs through Brit Ross Venus before Carl Hudson’s powerplay strike for MK on 47mins 8secs
But Blaze made it 5-3 while Alex Forbes was in the penalty box for slashing, Dingle completing his hat-trick, at 50mins 45secs, followed by the hosts’ sixth at 54mins 4secs from Danick Paquette
However there was one more response from Lightning with Ben Foster registering his fifth of the season at 56mins 38secs to make it 6-4.
Wiikman was withdrawn for the extra skater with 57 seconds remaining but it failed to produce another goal for Lightning.