Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning broke a four game losing streak as they celebrated a 6-4 victory over Raiders at Planet Ice on Sunday.
After a fairly even first two periods in which the two teams traded goals Lightning asserted their authority to take control of the third period with goals from Russ Cowley and Liam Stewart. But the win came at a cost with what looked like a substantial leg injury to defenceman James Griffin who had to be assisted off the ice 16 minutes into the first period.
He joined key forward Robin Kovar who sustained an ankle injury the previous night in the ranks of the injured. With Leigh Jamieson switching from the blue line to go up front and defenceman Ben Russell still injured that meant Lightning were left with two pairs of players at the back.
Despite that they showed resilience to overcome the Romford based outfit that had defeated them by an identical score at the Sapphire Ice Centre a week previously.
There was precious little to note about the first five minutes of the game as neither side put any decent shots on netminders Brandon Stones, making his first appearance since November 3, and Ethan James.
The first penalties saw Griffin called for tripping giving Raiders a brief advantage before Ollie Baldock went for the same offence, swiftly followed by Erik Piatak for a face-off violation, allowing MK a powerplay ended by Tomas Kana’s penalty for interference on the netminder. All of that produced precisely zero goals.
It was not until Rio Grinell-Parke fired in from the right at 13mins 57secs that the deadlock was broken – the shot looked to be turned in by the Raiders defender but they all count. Just 25 seconds later the encounter was all square with JJ Pitchley, son of Romford stalwart Ben, assisting on Baldock’s goal.
Raiders’ second goal was down to a defensive lapse by Lightning who left both Blahoslav Novak and Olegs Lascenko unmarked – with the almost inevitable consequence that the latter was able to supply the former for a great shot which Stones was unable to stop at 16mins 15secs.
Then came the clash between Raiders’ Jack Flynn and Griffin which ended in the MK player’s premature departure – no penalty called on the incident in which the injury victim crashed into boards behind the home net. It didn’t appear to be a dirty hit, and credit to Flynn for the concern he showed Griffin immediately afterwards.
Lightning then equalised at 18mins 5secs when a fine pass from Grant McPherson sent Tom Carlon away up the right and he was able to thread a shot past James into the corner of the net.
The hosts had a promising chance early in the second session when Stewart’s pass failed to connect with Jamieson before a spell in which Raiders came under pressure as Harry Ferguson, Cowley, Cale Tanaka and Lewis Christie all had attempts stopped by James.
It was a high stick penalty on Pitchley that gave MK the chance to edge in front at 31mins 50secs with a powerplay marker from Ferguson – the Scot turning in a pass from Jamieson on the right hand side of goal.
A couple of minutes later Jamieson was sin binned for tripping after he was unable to connect with what would have been a fine pass from Stewart – the latter’s reading of the game often on a different level to his team mates.
Although Raiders failed to capitalise on the powerplay they once more took advantage of MK failing to break up an opposition attack as Aaron Connolly finished off at 36mins 35secs.
But it was Lightning who ended the period one goal to the good after Flynn was sent to the cooler for elbowing Ferguson who looked as surprised by the call as the Raiders man. Despite that it was man of the match Ferguson who deflected a Jamieson shot past James to make it 4-3 on the powerplay at 38mins 58secs.
Within the first three minutes of the third session Tanaka went up the left and passed back to Cowley who rifled the puck into the net to give MK breathing space at last on 42mins 57secs before Novak found in himself in space to beat Stones for the visitors’ fourth goal at 45mins 12secs.
When Sean Barry was penalised for a high stick at 46mins 33secs Lightning took full advantage as Kana supplied Stewart to score the home outfit’s sixth 22 seconds later. From then on Raiders were contained – indeed Stewart could have had a second goal while Callum Wells was in the sin bin for cross checking with just under 10 minutes to go.
Lightning will be delighted with the two points which saw them end the weekend still in sixth spot in the league but two points of Sheffield Steeldogs who lost twice.
Man of the match: Harry Ferguson.