Two more losses – both at the hands of Guildford Flames – have left Milton Keynes Lightning still rooted at the bottom of the Elite League and out of the Challenge Cup.
On Saturday at least they put up a brave fight only to go down to an overtime goal scored 0.3 seconds from the end of the extra period in a 2-1 league encounter scoreline. The following night Lightning were unable to keep pace with their Challenge Cup hosts at the Spectrum Centre, conceding three third period goals in a 5-2 defeat.
In truth too often this season it’s men v boys with the rosters of the vast majority of the opposition Elite League teams staffed by players from North America’s third tier ECHL while many of MK’s come from the lower university leagues.
There was some sign of improvement on Saturday when MK took Flames to overtime at Planet Ice but in the end the best team deservedly won with Calle Ackered’s overtime strike timed out 64mins 59secs but which went into the goal with a third of a second left. Lightning took a point for their efforts but they would have been hoping from two if it had gone to a penalty shoot-out.
It was a cruel blow for Lightning who were keen to erase the memory of the 8-2 hammering inflicted on them the last time Flames visited in September. Adopting a defensive strategy the hosts looked to be a more cohesive unit than previously seen this season. And the tactics worked until Ackered struck.
Lightning had to soak up wave after wave of early Flames’ offence so it was against the run of play when Tim Wallace sent Andreas Valdix away on the opposite flank to cross for Radek Meidl to fire in first time at 7mins 39secs for an MK lead.
For the remainder of the period the momentum swung Flames’ way and late in the session Lightning had to defend a five on three penalty as Robbie Baillargeon, making his first home appearance, was followed to the penalty box by Martin Mazanec for hooking and roughing.
A second penalty on Baillargeon – this time for delaying the game – gave Flames another powerplay from which they levelled when Ian Watters fired in the equaliser at 28mins 37secs.
Timeouts by both Lightning, with 8mins 8secs to go, and then Flames with 40 seconds of regulation time left, failed to produce a defining goal and thus three on three overtime was necessary, ending with Ackered’s game winner.
Lightning’s failure to keep down the penalty count and keep pace with their more experienced opponents cost them dear on Sunday.
Three third period goals – one of them on a powerplay just 53 seconds into the session – sunk Lightning who had shocked the Spectrum Centre crowd with a goal after just 45 seconds only to concede just over two minutes later.
The defeat ended any vague hope MK had of qualifying from their Challenge Cup group – second place being secured by the Surrey outfit.
Michael Fine registered an unassisted marker after 45 seconds – the goal given after a video replay, only for Clay Anderson to be called for a delay of the game on 2mins 2secs.
That gave Flames a powerplay from which former MK captain Kevin King equalised on 3mins 4secs. Eighteen seconds later Lightning were back in front when Andreas Valdix’s replied.
Once more though, the visitors conceded quickly when Ian Watters shot past goalie Patrick Killeen on 5mins 38secs.
Flames had the puck in the net in the 27th minute but the effort was ruled out after a video reply.
An incident at the second period buzzer proved to be Lightning’s undoing. Killeen, Nelson Armstrong and King were all given two minutes for roughing to give Flames the advantage at the start of the third and they made it pay when Ackered made it 3-2 within 53 seconds.
Lightning fell further behind when Ben Davies scored Flames fourth on 50mins 41secs.
A collision between Davies and Killeen after the goal went saw the netminder replaced by back-up Adam Goss who was withdrawn for the extra skater as the game went into its final stages. Flames were then able to seize the chance of an empty net goal – Jez Lundin the marksman.