Milton Keynes Lightning ground out a 3-2 victory over Guildford Flames after being taken to overtime for the third game in a row on Wednesday.
This time Lightning needed a penalty shoot-out at MK Arena to claim maximum points – Tommy Mele scoring the decisive attempt in the best of three – leaving Flames wondering how they didn’t close out the game after twice taking the lead.
It was not the prettiest of wins by Pete Russell’s men but going on the old adage in sport that a team that’s winning when it is not playing well is the sign of a good side then Lightning won’t be complaining too much.
It was not until the third period that Lightning were able to match their opponents both in shots on goal and the balance of play – Flames having taken a first period lead through Jess Craige – only to see that wiped out in the middle session by a Kyle Essery powerplay goal.
The Surrey outfit then regained the advantage just after half way through when Rhett Rachinski capitalised on a five plus game penalty handed out to Matt Nickerson for cross checking.
But back came Lightning in the third period with a super Guillaume Doucet strike from the tightest of angles to make it 2-2 – enough to send the game into an inconclusive five minutes of overtime.
So it was down to the lottery of penalty shots – MK goalie Miika Wiikman denying the league’s top scorer, John Dunbar, before Denny Kearney saw his effort rebound off Flames’ stopper, Chris Carrozzi’s pads.
Carl Ackered then sent the puck past Wiikman to edge Flames ahead, only for Francis Verreault-Paul to cancel that out before Kruise Reddick had his attempt saved. Mele then ensured he earned the man of the match accolade by firing decisively into the Guildford net.
The excitement of the penalty shots probably made up for what was, at times, a dour battle between the two expansion teams in the Elite League. Both sides found it hard to gain much leverage, although in the first two periods Flames probably had the upper hand with Lightning too often being restricted to shooting from long distance.
Christian Isackson made a welcome return from injury and he was in the thick of the action early on when his pass to Mele saw the recent signing not far away from scoring.
It was a ten minute misconduct penalty on Isackson in the sixth minute that led to Flames’ go ahead goal. Within seven seconds of the penalty Brett Ferguson found Craige to finish off in a crowded goalmouth at 6mins 19secs.
It took Lightning until near the mid-point of the game to find the net – too many passes either going astray or being cut out by Guildford. The goal came on the powerplay after Brennan Yadlowski was sin binned for cross checking on 26mins 22secs.
Just over a minute later – at the fourth powerplay attempt – Lightning finally opened up the Flames’ penalty kill units when Mele supplied Essery on the right of the net to rifle home on 27mins 31secs.
It was not long though before Flames were back in front – thanks to an extended powerplay following Nickerson’s expulsion resulting in Rachinski’s goal at 32mins 52secs.
But Lightning have quality among their marksmen and Doucet restored parity with fine shot from the left 30 seconds into the final quarter of an hour of regulation time to square things up and send the encounter into overtime and penalties.