Three Sheffield Steeldogs goals in the opening quarter of an hour effectively ended Milton Keynes Lightning’s hopes of a glorious end to the season with a 4-1 defeat in the Play-off Championship Final at Coventry Skydome on Sunday.
Although MK did reply after Steeldogs second goal, it was the South Yorkshire side who were in the ascendancy. When Jason Hewitt added a third on 14mins 17secs Lewis Clifford’s men’s task became almost impossible.
As the game went on Sheffield tightened their grip on the play, closing down the channels in the centre and forcing MK to the margins from where even making a decent pass to a scoring position increasingly became impossible. In the end, it resembled trying to find the combination to a lock to open a safe that just wouldn’t open.
MK exerted pressure on the Sheffield net when on the powerplay after Lee Bonner was forced to take an early trip to the sin bin for interference on 1min 6secs. The man advantage ended abruptly though as Sam Talbot was caught hooking his opponent at 2mins 43secs.
Steeldogs made the most of the extra space on the ice with both outfits reduced to four skaters – Sam Towner setting up the experienced ex-Sheffield Steeler (and Lightning) player Andreas Valdix who had plenty of space right in front of goal to shoot over goalie Matt Smital’s shoulder at 3mins 2secs.
Talbot’s penalty had not expired when Jonathan Kirk supplied Hewitt for another blast that went high into the roof of the net on 4mins 09secs. Lightning were really up against from that moment on.
However, they gave themselves some hope of clawing back the advantage when Adam Laishram provided man of the match Liam Stewart to finish off on 6mins 47secs.
Sheffield bounced back quickly despite having to defend a penalty kill when Henry Adams was called for holding less than two minutes later at 8mins 5secs – MK unable to make any impression on Steeldogs’ goalie Dimitri Zimozdra.
When another former Elite League servant, Matt Bissonnette, was given too much space right in front of goal it was almost inevitable that the puck would end up in the back of the net. Again the shot was high for a 3-1 score after 14mins 17secs.
Seconds later another powerplay chance came MK’s way as Jack Brammer was despatched to the cooler for roughing in front of his goal. Once more Lightning were kept at bay and unable to put many shots on Zimozdra.
MK began the second period with renewed vigour – Laishram and Talbot both denied in the opening minute before Smital blocked Valdix going across the face of goal. Bobby Chamberlain was unable to get enough force behind his 24th minute effort and Tim Wallace’s attempt met a similar end.
Talbot’s bid to thwart Hewitt on the attack ended with a two-minute spell in the penalty box, for a high stick at 29mins 6secs. Seconds later, on 29mins 42secs, James Griffin joined him, caught roughing his opponent in a goalmouth scramble.
Steeldogs took full advantage of the five on three powerplay as Bissonnette struck again with shot to the left of Smital for a 4-1 lead. From then on it was a case of battening down the hatches for the eventual champions although they did have one or two more chances before the second break – Hewitt and Bonner both forcing good saves by Smital.
Ross Green’s 36th minute attempt from the blue line was easily dealt with by Zimozdra and MK were unable to capitalise when a Talbot shot rebounded off the netminder just after Adam Laishram’s blast from the narrowest of angles on the right hit the bottom pipework.
The third period was almost a non-event as far as the fans were concerned. Sheffield seemed content to block up the ice while MK hardly had a decent shot on goal in the opening ten minutes.
A change of line formations in the final ten minutes didn’t produce any better luck for Lightning – the cause not helped by a 54th minute holding penalty on Ed Knaggs. Probably the fact that the best effort by Steeldogs on the powerplay came from a blue line Ben Morgan shot showed their by now defensive approach to the encounter.
It was not to be Lightning’s day – possibly that was the case from the moment Hewitt put Steeldogs in front as early as the fourth minute.
Man of the match: Liam Stewart.