Milton Keynes Lightning may have been short-benched but that didn’t stop them from cruising to what was in the end a comfortable 6-1 success over local rivals Coventry Blaze at MK Arena on Saturday.
Lightning were missing the suspended Matt Nickerson and Francis Verreault-Paul plus Alex Forbes as well as the departed Ludwig Karlsson. But they were able to take advantage of the availability of Luc Johnson (Swindon Wildcats) and Glenn Billing (Peterborough Phantoms) whose clubs did not have games.
It was Lightning’s only game of the weekend as they gear up for the first leg of their Challenge Cup quarter final with Nottingham Panthers on home ice on Friday at 7pm.
On Saturday two on five on three powerplays gave the hosts the chance to take the lead with the game less than ten minutes old – and they did not waste the opportunities. A holding call on Blaze captain Jordan Pietrus was quickly followed by a face off infraction for the visitors.
Within 50 seconds Carl Hudson supplied Tommy Mele – whose body was almost on the ice – to turn and put the puck into what was effectively an empty net with netminder Kevin Nastiuk already committed. The goal was the signal for fans to ‘Air the Bear’ for charity and launch their toy bears onto the ice.
The first strike was scored on a delayed penalty on Kevin Noble who was caught cross-checking. That meant that Blaze remained at three skaters – and it was to prove costly when the defensive pair of Quin Pompi and Hudson doubled the advantage on 9mins 2secs. This time Hudson was the scorer from the American’s supply.
Blaze’s only goal came while they were enjoying a five on three powerplay thanks to referee Tom Darnell – first Christian Isackson, who unusually incurred the wrath of the official on four occasions, went for holding and then Hudson followed him to the cooler for slashing.
Lightning’s penalty kill units remained solid until Adam Courchaine was able to feed Ryan Dingle to score on 17mins 20secs.
It was to be the only moment of joy for a Blaze side who were given plenty of chances to recover the game in the second session – Isackson warming the penalty bench twice in quick succession. The first penalty for roughing seemed totally pointless, coming after Kevin King had seen his shot saved. On the second occasion he was joined by King who was guilty of delaying the game in firing the puck over the Plexiglas – thus Coventry had a two man advantage for best part of two minutes.
By that stage Lightning had already added to their tally with King and Ben Foster having a hand in Paul Phillips’ blue line blast which defeated Nastiuk just 3mins 54secs into the period.
Lightning came under intense pressure for the first few minutes of the final period but they weathered the storm – twice having to defend penalties on Isackson for tripping and Pompi for interference.
Having done that they tightened their grip on the game when Mele was on hand to follow up after Nastiuk could only block Denny Kearney’s effort at 49mins 47secs. The strike knocked the stuffing out of Blaze who soon found themselves four goals in arrears.
A poor pass by Blaze in the neutral zone was intercepted by Mele and his shot was deflected past the netminder by Jonathan Boxill on 51mins 5secs – resulting in the replacement of Nastiuk for Brython Preece.
Fife minutes later he was retrieving the puck from the net after Dax Lauwers was penalised for charging and Galen Patterson for hooking – giving MK another five on three powerplay from which Mele was again involved as Kyle Essery put the icing on the cake with a fine goal from close range on 56mins 36secs.
The result ensured that Lightning are top of the Patton Conference – with another clash with Blaze scheduled for next Saturday.