A weekend double over Leeds Knights gave Milton Keynes Lightning the best possible start to their play-off group campaign.
On Friday Leeds did not know what had hit them with Lightning on fire and blitzing netminder Sam Gospel’s goal from the first buzzer as MK won 5-0 at Planet Ice to earn goalie and man of the match Matt Smital his first shutout in the club’s colours.
In the return game at Elland Road on Sunday Lightning came from 2-1 behind at the end of the second period to win 3-2 for a maximum points weekend.
With Bees losing twice to league champions Telford Tigers in the same group, the favourites to go through to the Coventry weekend semi-finals will now be Tigers and Lightning. It may be a case of ‘it ain’t over until the fat lady sings’ but on league form – and that can count for nothing post season - MK will be confident of taking maximum points from Bees who failed to beat them during the regular season.
At home the hosts’ dominance did not pay off in the first period with the score all square at 0-0 going into the break despite Gospel’s goal being under siege at times.
Liam Stewart eventually cracked open Gospel’s domain with 24mins 22secs gone – his fantastic high blast going over the goalie’s right shoulder to give MK a deserved lead.
Sean Norris rifled the puck into the Leeds goal at mid-height on 31mins 49secs for the second goal. That prompted an immediate timeout by Leeds coach Ryan Aldridge.
His words didn’t have much effect because Lightning added to their tally a few minutes later when Tim Wallace, adding much needed experience to the third line, fired from the right past Gospel for goal number three at 35mins exactly.
Leeds could not hold out when Jamie Chilcott was sent to the cooler for slashing early in the third session as Sam Talbot beat Gospel again within seconds at 42mins 14secs for a powerplay goal.
The third period was Leeds’ best of the night – they tried in vain to claw back even a single goal. With a 4-0 lead with 15 minutes to go MK could have afforded to sit back – they didn’t do so with Bobby Chamberlain joining the scoring act with a high shot into the goal on 55mins exactly to make it 5-0.
In the return game MK made a spectacular fightback to come from being a goal behind at the end of the second period to win 3-2 after striking twice in less than two third session minutes to turn the game at Elland Road on its head. Chamberlain, having gone close a couple of times, was the scorer from 10 yards out at 44mins 34secs.
On 46mins 29secs Norris found space down the boards and he fed Talbot at the back post to put the puck in the back of the net to make it 3-2.
Earlier Knights had seized the initiative when Lewis Baldwin set up the impressive Cole Shudra to beat goalie Matt Smital at 8mins 45secs – James Griffin having had the first serious chance for Lightning.
There were fireworks in the first couple of minutes when Leeds’ Jordan Griffin and Chamberlain clashed – the home player earning five minutes in the cooler for fighting and his opponent two for roughing.
An interference penalty on Gospel gave Lightning a powerplay in the ninth minute and they took full advantage as Wallace supplied Stewart to equalise at 10mins 43secs.
Cole Shudra edged the home side back in front on 27mins 37secs. That was the way the score remained until Chamberlain squared the encounter. Talbot’s goal that followed was enough for the win, despite Leeds calling a timeout with 61 seconds left and the withdrawal of Gospel for the extra skater.