Kovar leads Lightning to four-point weekend

Lightning vs Leeds. Pic: Tony Sargent
Lightning vs Leeds. Pic: Tony Sargent

New signing Robin Kovar bagged his first goal for Milton Keynes Lightning as they completed their second four-point weekend of the season with a 4-2 victory over Leeds Chiefs at Planet Ice on Sunday.

History was made as Lightning played the first away game in their history at home – Leeds’ new rink still awaiting completion forcing the Chiefs to seek alternative venues for their hosted matches. It would be a theme familiar to a few of present day MK squad who were with Lightning when their home games were played away at Coventry Skydome during the 2013-2014 season and for the first two months of the following campaign while the city arena was refurbished.

Lightning vs Leeds. Pic: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Leeds. Pic: Tony Sargent

However, with so few Leeds fans making the trip south the atmosphere resembled a home game for Lightning – albeit the attendance was much less than a normal hosted fixture.

The previous evening Lightning overcame fifth in the table Hull Pirates 8-7 at home after a penalty shootout. The closing period saw Lightning tie the game up at 4-4 with a Liam Stewart powerplay rocket on 41mins 15secs before MK took the lead through a Leigh Jamieson blueliner on 50mins 11secs.

The game thereafter resembled a shoot-out at the OK Corral – Jonathan Kirk equalised for Hull on the powerplay at 51mins 53secs, after Rio Grinell-Parke was called for a high stick and Grant McPherson was handed a 10-minute misconduct penalty for his protests.

Hull were still on the powerplay when Jason Hewitt edged them in front on 53mins 46secs but within a minute Lightning were back level Tanaka poked the puck in at 53mins 13secs.

Lightning vs Leeds. Pic: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Leeds. Pic: Tony Sargent

Bobby Chamberlain beat Skinns on 54mins 57secs only for Jamieson to catch Hull goalie Ashley Smith out again to make it 7-7 after 56mins 55secs.

Yet all of this would not have been possible but for the brilliant goal-scoring prowess of Stewart whose hat-trick kept Lightning in the game.

His first goal on 3mins 20secs was a poke in from right in front of goal – a strike which saw MK’s new signing Robin Kovar pick up his first assist. Peter Fabus put Pirates level at 5mins 32secs.

Rio Grinell-Parke was sin-binned for cross-checking in the 15th minute and Pirate scored with the extra man through Lee Bonner at 16mins 42secs.

Lightning vs Leeds. Pic: Tony Sargent

Lightning vs Leeds. Pic: Tony Sargent

Hull caught Lightning’s defence cold to increase their lead within 48 seconds of the start of the middle period thanks to Jason Hewitt.

Then came Stewart’s second goal 1min 6secs into the middle period as Kovar sent him away for a one on one with Smith to cut the arrears.

Hull replied with their fourth goal by ex-MKL player Norris at 30mins 54secs on a powerplay after a tripping call on Ross Green. Lightning made the most of the first penalty of the game incurred by Pirates – Steven Chalmers called for interference with Tanaka scoring on 35mins 53secs.

That set up a tense third period with Lightning still in the game, trailing 4-3 at the break. Little could they have imagined that MK would come out on top in a penalty shootout in which Kana scored first for the hosts with all other takers failing to score.

Against Leeds Lightning came from behind after the hosts scored two powerplay goals in the opening 12 minutes. In the end victory was not assured until Tanaka struck in the 56th minute on a powerplay and then Stewart scored on an empty net with 42 seconds to go.

A slashing penalty on Grinell-Parke on 6mins 18secs allowed Leeds to edge in front through Lewis Baldwin on 7mins 24secs. The visitors were reduced to three skaters when Ross Green was penalised for holding after 10mins 34secs, quickly followed by a bench minor for too many men on 11mins 16secs. It took Chiefs 19 seconds to register through Adam Barnes.

Lightning cut the deficit on 17mins 32secs when Gospel blocked a Kana blast only for Tanaka put the puck away.

MK produced precious little pressure when the home side’s Luke Boothroyd was sidelined for delaying the game. However they did better when they were five on five – Jamieson, Kovar and Tom Carlon all trying their luck.

Increasingly it was MK who were the more likely to score - Tanaka twice being denied ahead of Kovar supplying Stewart, with whom a promising partnership seems to be developing. But Lightning had to wait until 35mins 59secs with Kovar scoring his debut MK goal.

With honours even going into the final session MK looked the more likely to win the game and when Tanaka was impeded by Richard Bentham. That earned the Leeds man a tripping call on 54mins 42secs and a powerplay from which Tanaka hit his second goal after 55mins 11secs.

Carlon was called for hooking on 57mins Chiefs called a timeout and with 1min 15secs to go they withdrew Gospel for the extra skater with Stewart winning possession to shoot into the empty net.