MK Lightning 4-6 Cardiff Devils (17th Feb)

By Paul Brookman

Never say die Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning may have lost the war but that did not stop them battling till the end when they went down 6-4 to league title contenders Cardiff Devils at Planet Ice on Sunday.

Trailing 5-1 at the end of the first period they looked like they were in for a hammering. But, despite being even further short-benched by the absence of injured Radek Meidl, they refused to roll over and die. A change of netminder at the start of the second period saw them launch a magnificent rear-guard action to cut the deficit to 6-4 in the following 20 minutes.

And their efforts were fully appreciated by the near 1,800 crowd, the vast majority of whom rose to their feet to produce a deafening chant in support of their heroes at the end of the game. It was as if Lightning were top of the Elite League and Cardiff at the bottom – not the other way round.

Having suffered the sudden loss of Ryan Lannon to a Finnish club last Thursday and then Meidl to a long term upper body injury at Cardiff on Saturday, Lightning’s squad will be sadly depleted until the end of the season. 

Bottom place in the league is all but assured but that does not stop MK fans proving they are the loudest in the competition. The Barmy Army could even put themselves up for hire for one of the four teams at the play-off finals at Nottingham in April and raise much needed funds for Lightning!

Sunday’s encounter began with a bang as Devils found themselves with two players in the sin bin within the first 20 seconds – Matt Pope being called for roughing after just six seconds and Mark Louis going for tripping on 19 seconds. That gave the hosts a five on three powerplay from which Nelson Armstrong blasted home to put his team in front after 44 seconds – rarely can there have been such an explosive start to a game at Planet Ice.

But, back at full strength, it didn’t take Devils to redress the balance with Joey Martin firing high into the net over goalie Patrick Killeen after 3mins 14secs. Cardiff then spurned a powerplay chance as Harry Ferguson was sent to the cooler for holding in the sixth minute – instead incurring a cross-checking penalty on the fiery Matt Myers a minute later.

That put the sides at four on four as Stephen Dixon defeated Killeen only 11 seconds later before Bryce Reddick struck again for the visitors with only 7mins 49secs gone.

Killeen was caught completely out of position when Layne Ulmer supplied Joey Haddad to put the puck into what was effectively an empty net after 17mins 1secs. 

With 18mins 51secs gone Devils’ recent signing James Livingston proved it was not Killeen’s night when he found a gap to the right of the goalie for the weakest of goals. However it was not awarded until after the officials consulted a video replay on the suspicion of goaltender interference.

The prospects for Lightning looked bleak at the start of the second period but, with Adam Goss replacing Killeen, the fightback began from the most unlikeliest of sources as Robbie Baillargeon sent defenceman James Griffin away to score his first MK Elite League goal at 29mins 33secs.

Lightning then made the most of a five on three powerplay – Reddick serving time for holding and goalie Ben Bowns penalised for delaying the game by firing the puck over the Plexiglas. The player on the mark was Michael Fine with what could only be described as an ugly goal resulting from a goalmouth scramble after 34mins 45secs.

Charles Linglet then beat Goss to the left of the goal to restore Devils’ lead on 38mins 4secs, only for Cole Shudra to fire home from a rebounding Baillargeon effort with 1mins 10secs to the second buzzer to make it 6-4.

It set up what promised to be a tense final period – however there were no further goals despite powerplay opportunities for both outfits including a five on three advantage for the visitors when both Ferguson and Martin Mazanec were consigned to the cooler.

Goss was withdrawn for the extra skater with 1min 45secvs remaining but it failed to break down the solid Devils defence.

Man of the match: James Griffin (sponsored by 123 Internet Group)

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