Milton Keynes Lightning will face National Ice Hockey League champions, Telford Tigers, Leeds Knights and Bees in the post-season play-off group games – beginning on Friday with a home match up with the Yorkshire outfit.
The final league positions that decided the make-up of the two play-off groups was only determined after the last league games on Sunday – Bees clinching the last spot with an 8-2 victory against Basingstoke Bison to edge out Raiders while Lightning narrowly lost 5-4 at Telford Tigers to end in fifth place in the table.
On Saturday, MK saw off Bees 6-4 in a hard fought win at Planet Ice- coming from behind three times. With eyes perhaps on the post-season play-off campaign, Lightning’s need for a win was less desperate than that of Bees who needed a point from overtime to secure their place. For most of the second half of the game, it looked as though Bees would achieve their target until they were undone by Tim Wallace’s 52nd minute powerplay strike.
Sam Talbot went one on one with goalie Curtis Warburton, to seal Bees’ fate on 57mins 17secs. A stoppage in play when Hallden Barnes Garner was penalised for tripping with 45 seconds left gave Bees the chance of a timeout. They withdrew goalie Curtis Warburton to give them a six on four skater advantage but Lightning’s penalty kill unit held firm for the win.
The hosts were dealt an early blow when Adam Rosbottom beat netminder Matt Smital after just 1min 7secs. It didn’t take long for Sean Norris to unleash a rocket blast past Warburton to level on 3mins 47secs.
The encounter swung Lightning’s way as they took a 2-1 lead on 11mins 33secs with a Bobby Chamberlain powerplay shot before the same player was caught checking to the head. The Berkshire outfit took full advantage of the powerplay – Harvey Stead equalising at 15mins 54secs. Bees went into the first break back in the lead when Ivan Antonov, finished off a neat move at 18mins 5secs.
Lightning levelled as they went on a quick break, turning over a Bees attack, Talbot’s blast giving Warburton little chance at 31mins 55secs. However, Antonov robbed his marker to go one on one and defeat Smital at 33mins 4secs.
A four on three powerplay for MK – allowed them to hit back through Chamberlain on 36mins 55secs. When Will Stead was given two minutes in the cooler for hooking MK were able to go ahead thanks to a Wallace marker on 52mins 21secs.
Talbot broke away for the sixth goal on 57mins 17secs.
The following evening MK lost out to a Scott McKenzie goal with 41 seconds remaining at Telford - a third period fightback by almost spoiling the party at Tigers’ last home league game of the season. Lewis Clifford’s men twice took the lead, only to lose out by the odd goal in a 5-4 defeat.
The 5-4 result will give encouragement to Lightning ahead of the play-offs – MK meeting the Shropshire outfit in the middle and final weekend of the group games
McKenzie’s first goal came 39 seconds into the middle period and Tigers extended the gap to two on 24mins 41secs with an unassisted marker by 42-year old Jason Silverthorn.
There was no change to the scoreline until Tigers’ goalie Brad Day was eventually beaten 39 seconds into the third session – Norris taking the honours.
Less than two minutes later at 41mins 40secs it was all square –Chamberlain scoring. If Telford were stunned by this then they were even more shocked when Ben Russell fired in a rare goal – only his second of the season – at 45mins 6secs.
Tigers hit back after 49mins 52secs through Silverthorn again before Talbot went solo to beat Day again for Lightning’s fourth on 53mins 17secs.
Moments later the visitors were penalised as captain Russ Cowley was sin binned for hooking and Telford squared things up thanks to Finley Howells on the powerplay at 55mins 6secs.
Just 41 seconds remained of the 60 minutes when McKenzie scored the winning goal that destroyed MK’s hopes of forcing overtime and at least a point.