Two well-earned victories in three days have kept Milton Keynes Lightning in the hunt for the National Ice Hockey League title.
Stalwart Lewis Christie made his 500th appearance for the club as they won 5-3 at Leeds Knights on Sunday – following up an 8-4 success against Basingstoke Bison on home ice on Friday.
Lightning came from being a 2-0 behind at the halfway point to claim the points at Leeds to end the weekend in second place in the table, a point adrift of Telford Tigers who have played one game less.
The hosts went ahead after two quick penalties on both teams led to a four on four situation from which Cole Shudra fired home at 18mins 21secs.
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The first period proved an even one and the following session proved to be similar with Sam Talbot blasting wide in the 25th minute and goalie Sam Gospel blocking Bobby Chamberlain on a wraparound attempt.
MK were unable to capitalise on a powerplay when Matty Davies was called for roughing and they fell further behind when Kieran Brown added to Leeds’ tally at 30mins 5secs.
A couple of minutes later Hallden Barnes-Garner squared up with Davies – both earning five minutes in the respective sin bins for fighting. When Tyler Nixon joined his MK teammate off the ice, it left the side short-handed. That did not stop Sean Norris from breaking down the middle, evading a defenceman’s challenge, to beat Gospel at 36mins 6secs.
MK equalised within 33 seconds of the restart as Norris broke away to find Chamberlain whose shot went in off the crossbar.
Leigh Jamieson forced the puck over the line for the go-ahead goal at 44mins 35secs. MK’s pressure was rewarded while they were on the powerplay with Brown serving a tripping call. Talbot supplied Liam Stewart to poke it in on 47mins 9secs for a 4-2 lead.
Just over two minutes later Knights cut the gap as Shudra supplied Brown to score on 49mins 43secs.
Norris went close in the 54th minute as MK sought to increase their lead but Gospel stopped his effort before, with less than three minutes remaining, Griffin’s shot hit the bar ahead of Gospel blocking Stewart’s shot.
In the dying seconds Knights withdrew Gospel for the extra skater and that allowed Stewart to feed Jamieson for an empty net goal with eight seconds left to seal the 5-3 win.
On Friday a superb Stewart hat-trick and the return of two defencemen from injury, plus a surprise appearance from a former Lightning forward steered the team to a well-deserved 8-4 win over Bison.
For the first time in a couple of months James Griffin and Sam Russell were able to return to MK’s defence and both gave assured performances as the team, when five on five, gave Bison few opportunities. Equally welcome was the return of Tom Carlon for the first time since the 2016-2017 season.
Carlon helped to fill the gap left by the absences of captain Russ Cowley and the injured Adam Laishram. It was Carlon who had a hand in the opening goal with Stewart finishing off at 9mins 24secs.
Barnes-Garner had the final touch on a long-range blast from Stewart for MK’s second goal on 18mins 34secs.Within seconds Bison were level when Zack Milton defeated goalie Matt Smital at 19mins 4secs.
Chamberlain was serving a roughing call when Bison equalised on the powerplay just 11 seconds into the middle period, Milton again on target.
Chamberlain edged MK back in front when he atoned for his penalty by firing high to the right of goalie Alex Mettam from Talbot’s set up at 28mins 2secs.
Lightning had another penalty kill to serve as Eddie Landsbergs was caught cross-checking. But it did not stop Stewart scoring a breakaway short-handed goal on 29mins 14secs. Bison replied almost immediately as Alex Roberts registered at 30mins 19secs.
MK didn’t take long to re-establish their two goal lead when Norris won possession in front of the Bison goal and shot past Mettam on the turn at 31mins 36secs.
Barnes-Garner fired towards goal for Stewart to complete his hat-trick on 33mins 27secs. That prompted a timeout by the visitors and they narrowed the gap with another powerplay goal, thanks to Aidan Doughty to make it 6-4 at the second break.
The goal was to be the last for Bison – only 23 seconds into the final session Griffin rounded Mettam to put the puck in the net for MK’s seventh.
MK rounded off their tally at 49mins 48secs when Talbot scored to make it 8-4. That led to the end of Mettam’s night, his replacement Jordan Lawday having little to do as an MK victory was already assured.