One of the best performances of the season at Planet Ice put Milton Keynes Lightning right back in the mix for the National Ice Hockey League title with a 3-1 win over fellow challengers Swindon Wildcats.
Make no mistake these were two huge points for a Lightning side that looked rejuvenated compared with the previous weekend. Capped by a man of the match performance by goalie Matt Smital they gave nothing away against the stiffest of competitors.
Lightning closed the gap on Wildcats in second position to be three points behind but with two games in hand.
There was nothing to choose between the two outfits in the first 20 minutes – reflected in the 0-0 scoreline and that were only ten shots on goal in total. In fact, it was not until the dying minutes of the middle session that there was a goal.
When it came, it could have been a hammer blow for a Lightning side that had worked hard all evening. But, to their credit, they continued to battle after Wildcats’ man of the match Tomasz Malasinski was set up by Aaron Nell with the Polish international scoring off his own rebounding shot at 37mins 35secs.
A last minute cross checking penalty on Emil Svec who impeded Sam Talbot allowed MK to start the third session with a 1min 46sec powerplay. They wasted no time in making the most of it with Liam Stewart redirecting Sean Norris’ blast from the blue line just 24 seconds after the restart.
A couple of minutes later Stevie Whitfield was penalised for tripping, giving Lightning another man advantage. This time the hosts had to wait a bit longer to score, Talbot converting from Stewart’s supply five seconds from the expiry of the penalty at 44mins 14secs to make it 2-1.
There was the small matter of seeing off a high stick call on Leigh Jamieson before head coach Lewis Clifford’s complete reshuffle of the lines became apparent. Talbot joined Stewart and Wallace on the first line with Adam Laishram switching from the third to partner Bobby Chamberlain and Norris on the second.
New signing Morgan Clarke-Pizzo moved from the first to third line with Hallden Barnes Garner and Mikey Power. Clarke-Pizzo and Barnes Garner, with their speed, resembled, at times, terriers going after a bone on either wing!
Whatever, the line changes gave Lightning the edge even though the statistics said Swindon outshot them 14-9 in the last 20 minutes.
There was an anxious moment while MK were a man short after Clarke-Pizzo was sin binned for boarding. Wildcats’ Chris Jones lay flat on the ice for a while and although there was blood, no further penalty was required, decided the officials.
The visitors were trying to pile on the pressure – an Edgars Bebris shot from the right was stopped by Smital before, a minute later, Nell tried to set up Malasinski whose rocket shot rebounded off the goalie.
Going into the final two minutes it was last chance saloon for Wildcats when they withdrew goalie Renny Marr in favour on an extra skater with 1min 24secs remaining. As always, it was a risky move, and when Chamberlain supplied Talbot in the neutral zone the writing was on the wall as he passed to his left for Wallace to score his second goal for the club with 54.5 seconds remaining.
It capped a great win for Lightning although, perhaps, 2-1 would have been a fairer scoreline.
Man of the match: Matt Smital.