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Two points in the bag but it was hard won as Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning battled to a 4-3 result over Leeds Chiefs at Planet Ice on Saturday.
Lightning recovered from a poor first period in which they trailed 3-1 at one stage to hit Chiefs with two goals in 24 seconds early in the third period to secure the win in an encounter.
True the home side were missing the suspended Grant McPherson as well as Robin Kovar and Ross Green, both injured, plus coach Lewis Clifford serving a ban from the bench, but too often during the first and second period especially Lightning were guilty of sloppy play.
It was not until the lines were tweaked at the start of the final session with Rio Grinell-Parke replacing Leigh Jamieson on the Liam Stewart and Taylor Dickin combination – Jamieson moving back into defence – that things started to click. It also gave Hallden Barnes-Garner the chance of some ice time in filling the gap left by Grinell-Parke to accompany Tom Carlon and Harry Ferguson on the third line.
The changes didn’t take long to take effect with MK striking twice in the 43rd minute – raising hopes for home fans of a breakthrough and a comfortable victory that was not to be, in the end doing enough to keep Chiefs at bay to claim the points in the quest to secure a play-off place.
It was Sam Zajac’s men who opened the scoring on 4mins 41secs when Robert Streetly made the pass to Lewis Houston to shoot to the left of goalie Jordan Lawday before Lightning had even really got going.
Stewart and then Tomas Kana then both had efforts blocked by netminder Sam Gospel before Cale Tanaka and Russell Cowley earned the assists on Kana’s shot from distance which gave the goalie no chance at 7mins 20secs.
Lightning soon fell behind again when Jordan Kelsall was supplier for top scorer Adam Barnes to fire past Lawday who had a screen of team-mates in front of him – the goal coming on 10mins 37secs.
That same sloppy defending was responsible for Chiefs’ third goal when MK’s defenders failed to close down both Joe Coulter and scorer Ethan Hehir at 17mins 23secs – the marker coming on a delayed hooking penalty on Grinell-Parke.
Just 17 seconds later both Tanaka and Chief’s Patrik Valcak were consigned to their respective sin bins on slashing and hooking penalties, giving the teams four skaters apiece with Lightning making the most of it as Russ Cowley set up Kana to reduce the deficit to one goal five seconds later at 17mins 45secs.
Lightning had a couple of chances in the first few minutes of the second session as Griffin passed for Taylor Dickin who was thwarted by Gospel before Stewart shot on the turn to see his effort meet the same fate.
MK wasted a powerplay opportunity when Hehir was called for delaying the game – producing no threat to Gospel in the Leeds goal and it could have cost them shortly after the visitors returned to full strength as Richard Bentham was allowed a free shot which came to nothing.
There was precious little offence as well when Luke Boothroyd was sin binned for interference in the 31st minute – Chiefs’ going closest towards the end of the penalty as Valcak was stopped from getting a good shot away.
Going into the third period Chiefs were still defending their 3-2 advantage from the first session. But all that changed in an instant – probably due to the line switches. First Tom Carlon scored a goal out of nothing after gaining possession between the two circles and firing round a packed Chiefs defence to level things up at 43mins 24secs into the right hand corner of the net.
Before Leeds had time to regain their composure Gospel was picking the puck out of the goal again when Kana set up Griffin with the perfect goal to celebrate his return to the team at 43mins 58secs.
From then on MK had the upper hand and they tried to press their advantage with Kana, Jamieson, Ben Russell, Stewart, Grinell-Parke, Griffin and Kana again all testing the opposing goalie without further success.
With 1min 50secs remaining Chiefs called a time-out leading to with the withdrawal of Gospel for the extra skater 15 seconds later. But it was all to no avail as the home defence remained solid for the win.
Man of the match: James Griffin.
Photo credit: Tony Sargent, Milton Keynes Lightning