What a win! What a performance! What a ‘Knightmare’ for Leeds as Matt Smital claimed his first shut-out in Lightning colours as MK’s play-off campaign begun in style with a 5-0 victory at Planet Ice on Friday.
Leeds did not know what had hit them with Lightning on fire and blitzing netminder Sam Gospel’s goal from the first buzzer – Liam Stewart’s great shot testing him in the third minute before Hallden Barnes-Garner’s cross-cum-shot from the left was almost tipped in by Tim Wallace a minute later.
The host’s dominance did not pay off in the first period with the score all square at 0-0 going into the break despite Gospel’s goal being under siege at times – Sean Norris burst up the left in the sixth minute and had his attempt blocked before, seconds later, Bobby Chamberlain’s shot bounced off the Leeds back stopper.
Ross Kennedy had a weak effort easily saved by man of the match Smital before Lightning were at it again – Adam Laishram was next to test Gospel ahead of a Chamberlain having an off target attempt.
It was much the same for the rest of the session – Stewart twice having great efforts blocked.
Stewart eventually cracked open Gospel’s domain with 24mins 22secs gone – his fantastic high blast going over the goalie’s right shoulder to give MK a deserved lead.
The home outfit survived the penalty kill when Ben Russell was called for interference – Tate Shudra, younger brother of Cole, and son of the great ‘Rocket Ron’, being crashed against the boards.
And there was no way through for Leeds when Russell returned to the sin bin almost as soon as he left it – this time for hooking Cole Shudra.
The second penalty had only just expired when Norris rifled the puck into the Leeds goal at mid-height on 31mins 49secs. That prompted an immediate timeout by Leeds coach Ryan Aldridge.
His words didn’t have much effect because Lightning added to their tally a few minutes later when Tim Wallace, adding much needed experience to the third line, fired from the right past Gospel for goal number three at 35mins exactly.
There was another powerplay for Leeds in the 36th minute after Lewis Christie was sin binned for boarding but the best the visitors could offer was a long range Kieran Brown shot, dealt with by Smital. In fact, it was MK who had the better attempt short-handed when Wallace set up Norris.
Leeds saw off a last minute penalty on Jordan Fisher for holding, meaning they started the third session a man short. However, they could not hold out when Jamie Chilcott was sent to the cooler for slashing. Norris made the supply for Sam Talbot to beat Gospel again within seconds at 42mins 14secs for a powerplay goal.
The third period was Leeds’ best of the night – they tried in vain to claw back even a single goal but, aided by some solid defending, they were unable to get close enough to goal often enough and when they did they met a brick wall in Smital.
At 4-0 in front with 15 minutes to go MK could have afforded to sit back – they didn’t do so with Bobby Chamberlain joining the scoring act with a high shot into the goal on 55mins exactly to make it 5-0.
As the final buzzer approached almost everyone in the arena was willing Smital to earn his first shutout for MK – and he was forced to earn it in the dying minutes as denied Brown’s best efforts and twice prevented Cole Shudra from finding the net.
There will be tougher games in this group – this was a flying start though with MK’s first shut out since December 2018 .
Man of the match: Matt Smital.