MK Lightning’s play-off dream was shattered with less than three minutes to go as Nathan Rempel struck to send English Premier League champions Guildford Flames into the final.
Lightning – with probably the biggest number of fans, and certainly the loudest, behind them – dominated large periods of the semi final at Coventry Skydome. In particular they controlled the second session, but failed to turn that into goals, despite taking a 2-1 lead at the second buzzer.
That advantage was wiped out with only 2mins 6secs of the final period gone when Jez Lundin provided the pass for David Longstaff to fire through goalie Stephen Wall’s legs, the puck just trickling over the line.
It was a bitter blow, and from then on Flames tried to up their game with Longstaff threatening again a few minutes later.
However, Lightning were not without their chances and Blaz Emersic went desperately close, Janne Jokila broke through the Flames defence and got his shot away under pressure, before Adam Carr tested goalie Mark Lee.
Wall made a fantastic save from Rick Plant before Longstaff was the provider when Plant was thwarted once more.
Eventually though Flames broke down Lightning’s rearguard as Bransilav Kvetan sent Rempel away to grab the game winning goal with 2mins 39secs remaining.
Lightning withdrew Wall for the extra skater after calling a time out with 55secs left on the clock, but it was to no avail.
It all looked promising at the start of the game when captain Carr carried on where he left off after his match winner against Slough Jets the previous weekend – scoring the opener against Flames on 6mins 14secs while the team were short handed with Michael Farn sitting out a two minute tripping penalty.
Lightning’s joy was short lived though – Flames quickly hit back on the same power play when Jozef Kohut supplied Rempel from behind the net for a first time shot into the net after 7mins 31secs.
Nick Poole’s men edged in front after 27mins 31secs as a Farn rocket shot from the blue line caught net minder Lee totally off guard.
Just over a minute later Flames Andrew Hemmings was sin binned for interference, and although Lightning fired in a deluge of shots, they could not find a way through. Farn, especially, was unlucky with Lee having to save his effort with his shoulder.
Kohut was next in the sin bin for Flames and once again Lee’s shoulder was again put to good use with another block from Farn while Adam Brittle’s effort just went past the post.
Kamil Tvrdek set up Brittle and he was extremely unlucky not to score. Eventually those failures came back to haunt Lightning as Flames went through to the final.
Nevertheless, after giving the league’s best team a real scare, Lightning were able to leave Coventry with the heads held high.
Poole said: “Still gutted about yesterday’s loss, but very proud of the lads for their effort. Players left it all out on the rink. Good luck to Flames.
“A huge thanks to our supporters – the best in the EPL. You guys have been superb all season and lifted our spirits yesterday.”