Lightning bounce back from first defeat of the season
Milton Keynes Lightning remain in the English Premier League's top two teams despite having their six game winning run ended by Guildford Flames on Saturday at MK Arena.
Flames who sacked netminder Richard Ullberg last week and replaced him with Joonas Kuusela came away 4-1 victors after a Lightning performance which was lacklustre until the final ten minutes of the encounter.
The following day MK eventually saw off anchor side Bracknell Bees 3-2 thanks to an early third period strike by Craig Scott.
It left Lightning sharing top spot with next Saturday’s visitors to M K Arena, Telford Tigers – the Shropshire outfit having lost on penalties at Peterborough Phantoms on Sunday after defeating Manchester Phoenix on Saturday.
Lightning failed to click into gear against Flames until they had finally broken their duck with Frankie Bakrlik's scrambled 48th minute goal - but by then it was too late to retrieve the match which Flames led 3-0 at that stage.
In the last ten minutes Lightning tried to pile on the pressure - coach Pete Russell switching the line combinations to try and find the spark to provide a late turn around to the score.
With less than two and a half minutes to go his Flames opposite number, Paul Dixon, called a time out - presumably in an attempt to break the Lightning momentum.
In reply Russell withdrew netminder Przemy Odrobny in favour of the extra skater. Unfortunately the gamble failed to pay off with the impressive Marek Maslonka able to complete his hat-trick with a long range empty net goal at 58mins 49secs to seal the win.
The first period which ended 0-0 was a cagey affair with neither side able to produce anything to seriously test the netminders.
Tom Carlon made his first appearance after injury since his return to Lightning and his first involvement ended in him being sent to the sin bin for hooking in the fourth minute.
There was some excitement in the 13th minute as James Griffin and Maslonka had a bust up following Jez Lundin's cross checking offence - the two combatants both earning four minutes in the sin bin for roughing.
Flames took the lead within 1min 2secs of the start of the middle session on a powerplay resulting from a too many men call on the hosts hanging over from the dying seconds of the opening stanza.
Tom Duggan was the provider for Maslonka with a long range blast which goalie Przemy Odrobny probably didn't see until it was too late.
When Michael Farn was called for hooking on 34mins 42secs Flames took full advantage of the chance to double their lead –Matic Kralj given far too much space and time to pick his spot high to the left of goal at 35mins 18secs.
Going into the third period Lightning desperately needed an early goal but instead the visitors made it 3-0 with the easiest of strike by Maslonka on 41mins 11secs.
Home fans' hopes were raised when Kuusela was eventually beaten with a 'messy' goal on 48mins 19secs, Frankie Bakrlik getting the final touch.
It proved a false dawn despite all the late fire from the home team with Mikolaj Lopuski going close twice in the space of 30 seconds after the change of line combinations.
The final nail was struck home as Maslonka completed his hat-trick with an empty net goal 1min 11 secs from the buzzer.
At Bracknell Scott got Lightning back to winning ways after Bees took the lead through David Gaborcik goal after just 13 seconds.
The strike was quickly cancelled out when Leigh Jamieson and Milan Baranyk had a hand in Blaz Emersic’s reply after 2mins 23secs.
Bees regained the lead after Bakrlik was side-lined for roughing with just over a minute of the first period remaining - Krystof Kafan registering on 19mins 19secs.
Pete Russell’s men levelled with a powerplay goal on 29mins 17secs – Gaborcik serving time for boarding – when Carlon scored his first point of the season to help supply Lewis Hook, the other assist going to Jamieson.
The winner came within 1min 55secs of the start of the final session with Bakrlik and James Griffin helping Scott to beat goalie Alex Mettam for Lightning’s third goal. The goalie blocked Bakrlik’s initial shot but could not keep out Scott’s follow up.
Bees called a timeout with 1min 35secs remaining leading to Mettam’s withdrawal but it proved of no avail.