Numerous penalties cost Milton Keynes Lightning any chance of an upset as they went down 5-1 to National League leaders Swindon Wildcats at Planet Ice on Sunday.
The hosts lost the services of two key players - Cale Tanaka and Tomas Kana – within minutes of each other at an important stage of the game when Lightning were trailing 2-1 in the second period. Both were handed ten-minute misconduct penalties after being involved in face-off violations.
The loss followed overtime heartbreak for Lightning at Basingstoke Bison on Saturday when, after hauling themselves level in the 49th minute, they were defeated by Adam Harding’s extra period strike.
On Sunday the indiscipline meant MK were short of one or other of their top-line forwards for a quarter of the game. And when Wildcats capitalised on the second of those penalties through the always impressive Tomasz Malasinski while MK were two men down at 38mins 30secs, the mountain became too high for the home side to climb.
It was not the first time this season that penalty trouble has hit short-benched Lightning’s hopes. In 75 per cent of their 13 matches they have picked up more penalties than the opposition to become the team with the most infractions in the league. Only once where they have had more penalties than their competitors have they won the game.
In the 53rd minute goalie Brandon Stones, who had put in an excellent performance, had to be assisted off the ice with a leg injury – to be replaced by Dean Skinns, brought in as injury cover for Jordan Lawday. Skinns showed enough in seven minutes on the ice to justify keeping him on at least as a third netminder as he saw off nine shots to stop Wildcats from further increasing their 5-1 advantage.
To add to MK’s woes the team had Rio Grinell-Parke thrown out of the game with just over five minutes to go on a game misconduct call for a boarding which floored Wildcats left winger Chris Jones.
Penalties are arguably the last thing Lightning need at present with the absences through injury of Grant McPherson, James Griffin, Russ Cowley and Lawday. The addition of former MK star Tom Carlon on a short term basis has no doubt strengthened the side while Logan Prince, promoted from MK Thunder, shows promise.
Jones opened the scoring on the powerplay at 5mins 11secs while Tanaka was off the ice on his second hooking call.
When Sam Godfrey was sin-binned for tripping Tanaka was able to make amends for the earlier offences by slotting in at the right post at 8mins 29secs.
It was not until early in the second session that Wildcats were able to break through again when Stones was caught on the wrong side of goal by Toms Rutkis at 24mins 44secs.
Malasinski made MK’s task almost impossible with goal number three just before the second break with Loris Taylor bagging the fourth on 49mins 25secs. Despite Tanaka’s misconduct penalty he picked up the man of the match award.
Just over a minute later Edgars Bebris scored on the powerplay – Sam Russell serving time for tripping – to make it 5-1.
Overtime heartbreak ruined Milton Keynes Lightning’s hopes of taking maximum points at Basingstoke. After taking a first period lead Lightning fell behind late on in the session and, after a goalless middle 20 minutes they drew level with just over ten minutes of regulation time left.
But with 1min 49secs of the extra period gone Harding sealed the points for the fourth in the league side.
Lightning scored first when Rio Grinell-Parke gained the assist as Carlon beat goalie Daniel Weller-Evans on 11mins 12secs. However, just over a minute later MK’s Logan Prince was sent to the cooler for holding and on the powerplay Bison scored through Alexander Sampford at 14mins 28secs.
A tussle in front of goal saw Bison edge ahead seven seconds from the first break thanks to George Norcliffe.
A series of penalties – mainly on Lightning – hampered second period scoring chances.
Having seen a third period short-handed spell off MK gave the travelling fans hope when Ari Nähri scored one on one with Weller-Evans to equalise on 49mins 49secs.
Both netminders came under pressure in regulation time – all without consequence. Eventually overtime settled the issue with Harding’s goal just over one and a half minutes into the session.