Seven points from a possible ten over a busy holiday period with five games in seven days have propelled Milton Keynes Lightning into title contention in the National Ice Hockey League.
The latest victory came on Sunday at Planet Ice when patience was the virtue for Lightning in a well-earned 4-1 success against fellow championship hopefuls, Sheffield Steeldogs. It followed the point gained in a 5-4 penalty shot loss at Basingstoke Bison on Friday.
Despite having the better opportunities in the first period, Lightning were unable to convert any of them. That all changed within the first 45 seconds of the middle session when Liam Stewart caught out goalie Dimitri Zimozdra.
The victory, perhaps more than most this season, was built on solid defence that severely limited shooting chances for Steeldogs. MK’s defence was again bolstered by another guest appearance by the experienced Michael Farn.
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MK set out their intentions right from the off with Adam Laishram setting up captain Russell Cowley for an unsuccessful attempt within the first few seconds of the game. Laishram then saw an effort blocked by Zimozdra followed by a Sean Norris shot that lacked the final finish.
A mistake by Steeldogs in their defence zone put Norris away in the ninth minute, only for Zimozdra to deny him, ahead of the first penalty falling to the visitors when Tim Smith was penalised for tripping Stewart. Nothing came of the powerplay with MK unable to make any impression.
Lightning began the middle period with as much intent as the first and were rewarded with the first goal from Stewart at 20mins 45secs. The hosts were forced to defend two quick penalties – Lewis Christie (tripping) and a bench one for a face off violation –Steeldogs were also a man short when Nathan Ripley was also called for tripping. It made no difference to a scoreline that only changed further in Lightning’s favour when Bobby Chamberlain set up Norris for a fine high blast into the corner of the net on 37mins 23secs.
Going into the second break MK were given a last second bonus when Lee Haywood was penalised for slashing Cowley. That led to the home team stretching the lead to three goals on the resulting powerplay at 41mins 12secs when what appeared to be a mishit by Chamberlain somehow ended up in the back of the net.
Smital’s resistance was broken on 47mins 54secs when Brammer was provider for Jason Hewitt to strike for Steeldogs’ only goal. Lightning added the fourth goal when Sam Talbot’s shot went through Zimozdra’s legs at 54mins 37secs.
Lightning fought back from being 3-1 behind at Basingstoke at the start of the third period to take the game into a scoreless five minutes of overtime by squaring things at four goals each with a 53rd minute powerplay strike from Leigh Jamieson.
That was the way the encounter remained once overtime had expired, thus requiring penalty shots that eventually clinched a 5-4 win for the Hampshire side.
Earlier three goals in less than a minute, beginning with a coast to coast Liam Stewart goal at 4mins 8secs, provided the fans with plenty to cheer about. His strike was quickly cancelled out by Alex Roberts’ goal only ten seconds later.
Lightning hardly had time to regroup from that when Roberts made it 2-1 to the hosts at 4mins 57secs.
Bison coach Ashley Tait’s charges added to their total nine minutes 14secs into the middle session when Jay King took the tally to 3-1.
MK started the final session with renewed energy and were rewarded when Sam Talbot and Norris had a hand in Chamberlain’s goal that reduced the deficit on 44mins 11secs.
Bison’s Paul Petts was sent to the cooler three minutes later for a high stick but instead of MK being able to make the most of it, the home side again stretched their lead with a short-handed breakaway goal for Roberts to complete his hat-trick.
Undaunted, Lightning hit back on 52mins 1secs as Chamberlain returned the compliment for Norris to score. One minute 50secs later, Lightning were level after they punished Bison on a powerplay resulting from a high stick offence by Oliver Stone.
Leigh Jamieson struck for the goal that sent the match into overtime and the penalty shots that ended with Bison registering three times and MK once.