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New signing Robin Kovar bagged his first goal for Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning as they completed their second four point weekend of the season with a 4-2 victory over Leeds Chiefs at Planet Ice on Sunday.
History was made as Lightning played the first away game in their history at home – Leeds’ new rink still awaiting completion forcing the Chiefs to seek alternative venues for their hosted matches. It would be a theme familiar to a few of present day MK squad who were with Lightning when their home games were played away at Coventry Skydome during the 2013-2014 season and for the first two months of the following campaign while the city arena was refurbished.
However with so few Leeds fans making the trip south the atmosphere resembled a home game for Lightning – albeit that the attendance was much less than a normal hosted fixture.
Lightning dominated most of the possession for large periods of the game after coming from behind after the hosts scored two powerplay goals in the opening 12 minutes. In the end victory was not assured until the ever lively Cale Tanaka struck in the 56th minute while MK had a man advantage and then Liam Stewart scored on an empty net with 42 seconds to go to the buzzer.
It was slashing penalty on Rio Grinell-Parke on 6mins 18secs that gave Leeds the opportunity to edge in front seconds after James Griffin had the puck in the net with an attempt which was washed out for the net being off its moorings.
Tomas Kana blocked the first shot from Lewis Baldwin but was unable to stop the rebound with which goalie Dean Skinns was given little chance on 7mins 24secs. At that stage Leeds probably deserved the lead as they had most of the early chances.
The visitors were reduced to three skaters when Ross Green was penalised for holding after 10mins 34secs, quickly followed by a bench minor for too many men on 11mins 16secs. It took Chiefs all of 19 seconds to make the most of the opportunity with Adam Barnes scoring an easy goal – the strike from right in front of the net.
Barnes had a couple of good chances after MK returned to four skaters but Skinns was able to deal with them before, back at even strength, Tanaka tried to set up Kana who shot wide. Jordan Stokes’ blue line effort was then taken by Chiefs’ goalie, Sam Gospel, ahead of the same fate meeting a Kovar attempt.
Lightning cut the deficit on 17mins 32secs when Gospel blocked a Kana blast only to see Tanaka seize on the puck and put it away from close range.
The middle period opened with Leigh Jamieson unable to convert a Russ Cowley cross in the first few seconds before Stewart went all the way from defence to fire a shot which went high and wide.
MK produced precious little pressure when the home side’s Luke Boothroyd was sidelined for delaying the game. However they did better when they were five on five – Jamieson, Kovar and Tom Carlon all trying their luck without success.
Increasingly it was MK who were the more likely to score – Tanaka twice being denied ahead of Kovar supplying Stewart, with whom a promising partnership seems to be developing. However it did not result in the equaliser. Lightning had to wait until 35mins 59secs for Grant McPherson to supply Kovar for his debut MK goal.
With honours even going into the final session MK looked the more likely to win the game although Chiefs were not ready to roll over despite an early penalty on Liam Charnock for delaying the game. Again it proved fruitless for the visitors.
When Ben Russell was caught tripping his opponent on 48mins 5secs Leeds had two good attempts to go in front again – Radek Meidl and then Barnes, supplied by James Archer, unable to beat Skinns.
The final few minutes belonged to MK with Grinell-Parke, Kovar, Kana and Tanaka having efforts – the latter player impeded by Richard Bentham as he tried to shoot. That earned the Leeds man a tripping call on 54mins 42secs and a powerplay from which McPherson was able to set up Tanaka for his second goal after 55mins 11secs.
As Carlon was called for hooking on 57mins Chiefs called a timeout and with 1min 15secs to go they withdrew Gospel for the extra skater. MK survived the penalty and with Gospel still on the bench Stewart won possession in the visitors’ defensive zone to shoot home on the empty net at 59mins 18secs – the puck travelling agonisingly slow towards the goal.
Man of the match: Robin Kovar.