A poor first period, together with another outstanding performance from probably the best netminder in the National Ice Hockey League, denied Milton Keynes Lightning victory as they went down 4-3 to Leeds Knights at Planet Ice on Saturday.
During the opening 20 minutes, Lightning conceded two crucial goals that were to prove their undoing – both due to defensive lapses. In addition, Liam Stewart was unable to beat Knights goalie Sam Gospel who blocked his penalty shot attempt.
On a brighter note, Lightning’s fundraising activities for the Bedford, Aylesbury and Milton Keynes Ukraine Appeal raised a staggering £10,152 – £5 for every one of the 2,000 fans that packed the arena. Much of that was from an online and match night raffle for the entire roster’s specially designed Ukraine flag coloured shirts. Every raffle ticket available was snapped up.
Lightning went behind as early as 3mins 34secs when Knights’ Kieran Brown, supplied by Adam Barnes, beat Ross Green and unleashed a rocket shot that netminder Matt Smital could not stop.
The hosts had a couple of efforts in the following minutes – Sam Talbot setting up Bobby Chamberlain for a shot that was too weak to catch out Gospel after Talbot had fired wide. Leeds put MK under pressure when they were awarded a powerplay after Green was penalised for cross checking in the sixth minute. Despite the pressure, Knights failed to find a way to add to their tally.
Callum Field was unable to connect with Morgan Clarke-Pizzo’s pass from behind the goal-line while at the other end Cole Shudra was unsuccessful when he tried to dribble the puck past Smital
Lightning’s defence was caught lacking when Barnes was given too much space to add goal number two at 12mins 25secs – the player scoring his 20th league goal of the season after picking his spot.
Shortly after Stewart saw his attempt ping off the outside of the post and he was equally frustrated when MK were awarded a penalty shot in the 17th minute – Gospel spreading himself wide to block the shot.
MK upped the tempo in the second session and Stewart and Sean Norris had attempts go wide in the first few seconds before James Griffin tried a shot from distance – Gospel’s glove taking the puck.
Shudra and Barnes were thwarted by Smital mid-way through a period in which Knights looked to be hanging onto their advantage until Brown was caught slashing Russell Cowley in the 35th minute. That gave Lightning a powerplay and the opportunity to cut the deficit was taken when Cowley’s behind the goal pass was rifled home by Talbot at 37mins 12secs.
A further penalty, this time given to Shudra for roughing less than a minute later put Leeds a man short once again. With it came the chance to go into the locker room all square at the second break – one that MK gratefully snapped up with a well worked move involving Norris and Adam Laishram, culminating in the latter’s equaliser 11 seconds from the end of the powerplay at 39mins 54secs.
With all to play for both teams there were plenty of chances in the third period. However, it was the hosts who went in front for the first time when Lightning were able to make the most of a four on four situation with Chamberlain and Sam Zajac in their respective penalty boxes for roughing.
Ed Knaggs made the supply for Norris to just beat Gospel to the right of goal at 47mins 41secs. Leeds did not waste much time in drawing level as Lewis Baldwin set up Shudra to defeat Smital at 50mins 51secs.
Less than two minutes later Ben Solder blasted in from the blue line, through traffic, for Brown to redirect the puck into the net to put Leeds in command again.
Smital was withdrawn from the ice in favour of an extra skater after coach Lewis Clifford called a timeout with 1min 39secs remaining. However, even when Knights were reduced to four skaters with Matty Davies sent to the sin bin for tripping with 44 seconds left, Lightning could not break through again.
Man of the match: Sean Norris.