Second spot looms for Lightning

MK Lightning vs Manchester Phoenix. Pics: Tony Sargent.
MK Lightning vs Manchester Phoenix. Pics: Tony Sargent.

MK Lightning maintained their grip on second spot in the English Premier League by taking three points out of a possible four over the weekend.

But they will still be looking over their shoulders at the fortunes of Peterborough Phantoms who are just a point behind with three games in hand.

On Saturday Lightning gave up a two goal third period lead to lose 5-4 in overtime to lowly Manchester Phoenix at MK Arena – taking a single point instead of the two they would have had for a win.

The next day Pete Russell’s men survived a third period scare when Sheffield Steeldogs fought back to level the game with just over 17 minutes remaining as Lewis Hook sealed maximum points with 45th minute strike.

Lightning had only themselves to blame after giving Phoenix a two goal start before fighting back to take a 4-2 lead through Frankie Bakrlik on 46mins 14secs. Manchester responded by upping the tempo – Lightning seemingly failing to notice the change in pace.

Their determination paid off shortly afterwards with former MK player Jacob Corson-Heron narrowing the gap with a well-taken goal on 50mins 17secs – disappointing all the home faithful except his mum, Fiona, the Lightning announcer!

Manchester’s comeback was further boosted when another ex-MK man Ben Russell supplied Stanislav Gron for the equaliser 2mins 22secs later.

Goalie Dean Skinns then was caught out by Gron’s unassisted shot 4mins 32secs into the five minutes of sudden death overtime.

Lightning welcomed back defenceman Martti Jarventie from injury while Markku Tahtinen was in the line-up – allaying fans’ fears of a serious injury following his premature departure from the previous weekend’s game with Sheffield Steeldogs

Against the run of play Robin Kovar poked the puck in to give Manchester the lead on 6mins 55secs.

Luke Boothroyd’s long pass out of defence was met by Martin Baranek who went up the right and beat Skinns on 11mins 32secs to make it 2-0.

A switch in the line combinations had an immediate effect as Markku Tahtinen was moved to partner Bakrlik and Blaz Emersic after starting with Adam Carr and Jack Watkins.

Within seconds it paid off with Tahtinen involved when James Griffin and Michael Farn had the assists on Bakrlik’s strike at 16mins 26secs.

Bobby Chamberlain squared things up on 22mins 1sec and then Tahtinen made the pass for Emersic to lift the puck high to the right of Fone after 24mins 30secs.

Bakrlik put a two goal gap between the outfits in the third period, sparking a Phoenix revival in a game which ended in an ugly scene as Chamberlain and Baranek clashed during the final handshakes – both being given a total of 14 minutes for roughing.

At Sheffield the visitors took the lead after 17mins 21secs when Chamberlain and Tahtinen were the providers for Jordan Cownie.

Both sides had already a number of opportunities to score before then with Tom Squires going close for Steeldogs in the third minute while a long range Lewis Christie effort was saved by goalie Dalibor Sedlar four minutes later before Leigh Jamieson’s blast was blocked en route to goal.

Cownie was next to test the Steeldogs stopper with Skinns then able to cover a Lubimor Korhon attempt.

Following Lightning’s goal the hosts swiftly hit back with Korhon, assisted by Squires, opening their account at 18mins 32secs.

The travellers lit the red lamp again on 26mins 33secs – the man on the mark being Chamberlain, assisted by Tahtinen and Cownie.

A penalty on Steeldogs for having too many men on the ice at 35mins 2secs led to Lightning extending their advantage with Jarventie the supplier for a Bakrlik powerplay strike only 12 seconds later.

However Steeldogs were able to reduce the deficit before the second interval as Farn was sin binned for tripping at 37mins 53secs – Andrew Hirst netting 49 seconds ahead of the break.

Lightning’s lead was wiped out with only 2mins 33secs of the start of the final session thanks to Ashley Calvert.

It was not long after that Lightning got themselves back in front thanks to Christie and Tahtinen who set up Hook to score after 45mins 31secs.

Steeldogs put the puck in the net with just under ten minutes left but referee Paul Brooks had already blown his whistle to stop play after the puck hit Skinns’ helmet.

That was probably the closest Steeldogs came to levelling again – Tim Smith trying a long shot without success.