Lightning face one comeback too many

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Lightning staged a dramatic fight back to clinch a hard-earned 5-4 win over Manchester Phoenix before a crowd of more than 2,000 fans at MK Arena on Saturday.

But in keeping with their inconsistent form this season they could not keep up the form the following day when they went down 5-3 at Sheffield Steeldogs - despite taking a 2-0 first period lead and holding until near the end of the second session.

The club made a surprise move in signing Canadian import Curtis Huppe from Elite League Belfast Giants a day before the registration deadline on Saturday.

Huppe, a renowned goal scorer, made his debut against Phoenix and wasted no time in getting on the score sheet - assisting on the first goal - but over the course of the game looked less than match fit. On Sunday he assisted on two of his team’s goals.

The signing of Huppe throws the future of Czech forward Marek Curilla into doubt. With clubs restricted to icing four imports Curilla was left out of the line-up at the weekend. Under league rules Huppe must play in 13 of Lightning’s remaining 14 league games to enable him to take part in the post-season play-offs.

The presence of Huppe seemed to give his team mates a boost in the opening minutes against Manchester. The Winnipeg made the back pass, under pressure, for Petr Horava to open the scoring with a blue line blast after 2mins 58secs.

When Shaun Thompson was penalised for hooking in a bid to thwart a double pronged attack by Lewis Hook and Blaz Emersic the home side were afforded a powerplay from which they took advantage. Leigh Jamieson supplied Milan Kostourek for a shot from the left side of goal to make it 2-0.

Jamieson was involved in the next goal with a pass from behind the goal line to Jordan Cownie who picked his spot in the top right of the net at 15mins 49secs.

Just when everything seemed to being going in Lightning’s favour, Chris Wiggins was given his first shift of the night and promptly picked up a charging penalty. From the resulting powerplay Robin Kovar registered from close range to cut the gap.

If Lightning were on fire in the first period then the flames had gone out by the start of the second period - a session in which they were outshot 13-3 as they allowed Manchester peg them back.

Despite the pressure the home team were able to keep the opposition at bay until Frantisek Bakrlik set up Thompson to beat goalie Stephen Wall on 34mins 12secs.

Three seconds from the end of the period Manchester drew level, moments after Wall had made an excellent save from Tony Hand but couldn’t keep out Bakrlik to make it 3-3.

The goal seemed to wake up the home outfit at the start of the third period with Hook’s fine effort rebounding off the keeper in the 47th minute seconds before Ross Bowers was thwarted going in on goal.

However it was Manchester who went ahead when Lightning were caught with only one player in defence as Bobby Chamberlain and Adam Walker attacked - Chamberlain getting the shot to beat Wall at 49mins 49secs.

Within two minutes the home team were level as Jamieson netted on 51mins 48secs.

Exactly five minutes later Horava sealed the points for Lightning with a fantastic unassisted strike - rounding netminder Declan Ryan before putting the puck away.

Manchester called a time out with just over a minute remaining and withdrew Ryan in favour of the extra skater with 48 seconds remaining - and it almost cost them with Huppe just firing wide of the empty net with three seconds to go.

At iceSheffield the next day Lightning were in control at the first break as Ross Green supplied Hook to put them in front after 15mins 15secs.

Less than two minutes later Grant McPherson set up Bowers to double the advantage as the visitors ended the first session 2-0 in front.

Steeldogs’ line-up was missing the resident clown, coach, Andre Payette, resulting in a more free flowing game with the minimum number of penalties.

The home line-up did include Cole Shudra, son of the legendary ‘Rocket’ Ron Shudra who once coached the Sheffield outfit when they were known as Scimitars.

It was not until 2mins 55secs from the end of the middle session that Steeldogs were able to reduce the deficit, thanks to an Andrew Hirst goal assisted by Tom Squires.

A minute or so later Horava was penalised for delaying the game and from the resulting powerplay Steeldogs gave themselves hope with a powerplay goal from Steve Duncombe 35secs before the buzzer.

An unassisted Janis Ozolins goal drew the hosts after 46mins 5secs before Squires put them in front for the first time at 49mins 4secs.

Ozolins then compounded Lightning’s misery with an assist on the fifth Steeldogs goal scored by Lubomir Korhon at 54mins 24secs.