Milton Keynes Lightning stunned high flying Belfast Giants with a last gasp winner from Francis Verreault-Paul at the Odyssey Arena on Sunday.
Lightning twice came from behind after taking a brief 2-0 first period lead to grab a well earned 5-4 win – only their sixth on the road in all competitions – with the Canadian’s 14th strike of the season 38 seconds from the final buzzer.
It went some way to making up for the disappointment of a further home defeat for Lightning the previous evening when they went down 4-1 to Manchester Storm at MK Arena – a Ben Foster goal on 56mins exactly preventing a shut-out.
Third in the table Giants would have been favourites to collect the points before Sunday’s game but they were given a rude awakening after only 2mins 8secs when man of the match Christian Isackson beat netminder Jackson Whistle. That was despite the visitors being a man short at the time following a slashing call on Kevin King 41 seconds earlier.
A minute or so later Giants’ Brendan Connolly was sin binned for roughing and from the powerplay Lightning did not waste their chance to go two ahead when Lewis Hook scored on the rebound after 4mins 35secs.
Connolly then redeemed himself by cutting the gap with a goal after 6mins 8secs.
But it took until 26mins 20secs for Belfast to level when Darcy Murphy beat goalie Henry Pacl.
The hosts then took the lead for the first time on a delayed penalty call – Connolly the provider for David Rutherford to make it 3-2 at 35mins 59secs.
In games past this season this might have led to the demise of Lightning. This time though they remained resilient to keep the deficit to one at the second break before registering their second powerplay goal on 46mins 55secs while Murphy was off the ice for cross checking.
Once more it was Isackson with his tenth goal of the campaign who was on the mark from a set up involving Paul Phillips and Denny Kearney.
The score swung Giants’ way once more less than a minute later as Spiros Goulakos made it 4-3 on 47mins 35secs. But back came Lightning on the powerplay thanks to a Guillaume Doucet unassisted top shelf effort after 49mins 39secs while Cole Jarrett was sidelined for interference.
It set up a tense final 10 minutes before the game was eventually decided when Doucet’s cross goal pass was turned in by Verreault-Paul at 59mins 22secs, making the long journey for both team and fans all the more worthwhile.
A day earlier a pair of quick Manchester Storm goals inside the opening three minutes sent Lightning to defeat at MK Arena.
The game, played against the background of the news that coach Peter Russell will not be returning to the club next season, saw Andrew McKinney and Ryan Trenz twice defeat goalie Miika Wiikman to give the visitors an early lead from which Lightning never recovered, eventually going down 4-1.
It was not until the 56th minute that the home side were at last able to gain some respite with Foster, following his hat-trick two days earlier against Edinburgh Capitals, registering what was no more than a consolation marker.
Had Lightning been able to capitalise on any of the seven powerplays they were given then it might have been a different story.
Wiikman was retrieving the puck from the net as early as 1min 15secs after Brit McKinney’s opening strike.
Lightning had hardly recovered from that early blow when they were two behind. This time the scorer was Trenz at 2mins 23secs.
MK had a five on four powerplay after Linden Springer was called for tripping in the 17th minute, but again it was no go in front of goal for Lightning – as it was when Trenz was next to visit the cooler within the first couple of minutes of the second stanza.
Having survived that Storm went further in front through Trenz at 25mins 35secs.
Lightning’s ranks were reduced following a clash between Storm’s Dallas Ehrhardt and Verreault-Paul. The Manchester number 10 received a total of four minutes in the sin bin for roughing and slashing while the MK man was given his marching orders on a match penalty.
Luke Moffatt added to Lightning’s woes when Storm took their tally to four without reply on 52mins 59secs before Quin Pompi and Alex Forbes had a hand in Foster’s goal, preventing a shut out at 56mins exactly.
Even though McKinney was consigned to the sin bin for much of the final two minutes there was no second goal for the hosts whose outside hopes of a play-off place have all but gone.