Lightning prove they can mix it with the Elite's top boys

MK Lightning.
Pic: Tony Sargent
MK Lightning. Pic: Tony Sargent

Milton Keynes Lightning came so close to claiming the scalps of not one but two top three sides in the Elite League as they bagged three points out of a possible four over the weekend.

At third placed Nottingham Panthers on Saturday, in front of a crowd of nearly 5,500, they demonstrated they are perfectly able to live with the big boys – only falling to an overtime powerplay goal in a 4-3 defeat after leading the hosts 3-1 in the second period.

Lightning celebrate against Nottingham

Lightning celebrate against Nottingham

There was no such heartbreak on Sunday when league leaders Manchester Storm were defeated for the second time on visits to MK Arena – Lightning finishing on top by a 3-2 margin.

While Denny Kearney was the culprit on Saturday – his high sticking penalty leading to Panthers’ winner – he was the hero the next day in getting MK off the mark with a third minute powerplay goal and earning man of the match.

Lightning were beaten but far from disgraced with their large army of fans earning the accolade of being the loudest to have visited the arena this season – Sheffield Steelers et al.

There were plenty of chances for both sides in the first period with Panthers’ goalie Michael Garnett knocking a Ludwig Karlsson effort over the bar before MK stopper Miika Wiikman tested by a hard left wing effort from Yann Sauvé ahead of Panthers captain Stephen Lee was penalised for a cross check on Francis Verreault-Paul at 18mins 9secs.

Lightning vs Nottingham

Lightning vs Nottingham

Thirty-six seconds into the powerplay Verreault-Paul made Lee pay in the best possible way, supplying King for the go ahead goal.

Into the second period there was an explosive start when Matt Nickerson and Mathieu Gagnon decided to do battle after a minute or so – both earning five minute majors for fighting.

Panthers denied former MK King, David Clarke, before man of the match Alexander Mokshantsev lit the lamp for his team on 23mins 21secs.

But the home crowd were silenced again four minutes later when Karlsson from the left set up Alex Forbes for a first time shot which rocketed into the net on 27mins 27secs – the Scot’s first goal for the team helping him earn man of the match.

Denny Kearney then found Guillaume Doucet in space to blast home for a 3-1 lead after 29mins 49secs.

Panthers cut the deficit less than two minutes later when Spang won possession in the home outfit’s offensive zone and beat Wiikman with a shot to the right of goal on 31mins 14secs.

The home side drew level on 43mins 49secs with an unassisted Zack Phillips rocket into the net which gave Wiikman no chance.

MK players claimed a goal soon after Panthers’ equaliser but the effort was ruled out by referee Jan Schmejkal after consulting the video replay.

There was a further bout of fisticuffs in the 50th minute when Kevin Gibson and Evan Mosey dropped the gloves – again five minutes for fighting was the verdict.

With the scores level overtime beckoned and a high stick call against Kearney eventually proved to be Lightning’s downfall as Panthers’ Phillips netted from Sauvé for the game winner for Panthers 20 seconds later on 61mins 31secs.

The following evening at MK Arena Manchester Storm were sent home with defeat ringing in their ears for the second successive visit to MK Arena.

The result – only league leaders Storm’s fourth loss in 14 league outings – was a repeat of the score earlier in October.

Storm were made to pay dearly for a two minute slashing penalty on Ryan Trenz after 2mins 53secs as Lightning went ahead on the resulting powerplay as Kevin King and Paul Phillips were involved when Denny Kearney registered 17 seconds later.

One minute five secs from the first intermission Karlsson defeated goalie Mike Clemente to make it 2-0. Again the provider was the impressive Paul Phillips.

Storm hit back when Gibson, making his last appearance for the side, was called for hooking – Nate Fleming the supplier for Jay Rosehill to make it 2-1 at 34mins 16secs.

But there was a swift response from the hosts with Tommy Mele scoring his first goal for his new side 17 seconds from the interval – the assists going to King and Karlsson.

Storm reduced the arrears to one goal on 47mins 25secs when Ciaran Long, beat Wiikman.

In a last throw of the dice, Storm withdrew Clemente for the extra skater – quickly followed by both coaches calling time-outs – but MK remained resolute to maintain the 3-2 score.