A moment of Liam Stewart magic finally unlocked a resolute Leeds Knights defence to steer Milton Keynes Lightning to a 4-2 victory at Planet Ice on Saturday.
Until that moment a short-benched Knights looked capable of snatching the win in what was a close fought game with both netminders deservedly taking the man of the awards for the their respective clubs.
In the end though a great pass from Sam Talbot sent Stewart away to beat goalie Sam Gospel one on one with a rocket into the roof of the net on 50mins 39secs and edge Lightning into a lead they didn’t surrender.
With a minute to go Gospel was withdrawn in favour of the extra skater – immediately producing a disastrous consequence as a well-worked move saw Bobby Chamberlain supply Talbot to fire home on the empty net as the clock ticked down to 48 seconds to the buzzer.
Early on chances were evenly split between the two teams – Kieran Brown testing goalie Matt Smital in the first couple of minutes ahead of a fine effort from Talbot landing in the glove of Gospel.
An Ed Knaggs penalty for delaying the game saw Knights unable to break down MK’s penalty kill unit while there was an identical outcome when Jordan Fisher was given two minutes in the cooler for a check to Adam Laishram’s head.
A Brandon Whistle blast almost, but not quite, beat Smital in the 16th minute before the deadlock was finally broken when Stewart supplied Russell Cowley for a shot on the turn to defeat Gospel at 17mins 21secs.
The second period was only 58 seconds old when Cowley was sin binned for four minutes for a high stick offence and that put Knights on the powerplay. They did not waste the chance with Archie Hazeldine making the pass for Whistle to unleash a blast that caught out Smital from long range at 23mins 27secs.
Less than three minutes later Leeds edged ahead when Whistle was the provider for Brown who caught out the MK defence on 26mins 52secs – Sean Norris from a Talbot supply having gone close shortly beforehand.
As MK went in search of a quick reply Cowley, Tyler Nixon and Stewart all failed to break Gospel’s resolve. New signing Mikey Power, making his debut for Lightning, was next with an unsuccessful effort.
Indeed, it was not until 51 second before the next intermission that Lightning were able to get back on terms – Edgars Landsberg setting up Norris for an upstairs strike to ensure a 2-2 score.
While MK were able to roll three lines that luxury did not apply to Leeds who could only muster two. Eventually, perhaps, that worked to Knights’ detriment, even though early on in the third period Leeds had the better chances. Matty Davies, Sam Zajac, Lewis Baldwin and Whistle all challenged Smital without success.
A Whistle shot that hit Smital’s helmet led to the goalie having to borrow back-up Brandon Stones headgear for the remainder of the game ahead of another unfruitful powerplay for the hosts after Hazeline was penalised for a high stick.
Back at even strength, Stewart raced away, going solo to beat Gospel with less than nine minutes to go before Talbot’s empty netter put the icing on the cake.
Man of the match: Matt Smital.