Sheffield Steelers 2-1 MK Lightning (20th Jan)
By Paul Brookman
Double defeats at the hands of Sheffield Steelers have left Smith Recycling Milton Keynes firmly rooted to the bottom of the Elite League.
With 20 games to play, qualification for the end of season play-off is still mathematically possible after Sunday’s narrow 2-1 loss at the FlyDSA Arena – but it relies on the three teams above MK hitting a losing streak and a big improvement in results for Tim Wallace and Ryan Lannon’s outfit.
After the defeat at Steelers there is a 13 point gap between MK and Coventry Blaze and Sheffield plus a 14 point difference with Manchester Storm who occupy the final play off spot.
MK’s plight was not helped by injuries to Martin Mazanec, Trevor Morbeck and David Norris which has left the squad seriously depleted – especially so after the departure of defenceman Clay Anderson early in the month.
There was an early powerplay opportunity for Lightning when Steelers’ man of the match Anthony DeLuca was penalised for delaying the game after just 1min 38secs. But the home side were able to keep the visitors at bay and it was the hosts who went in front on 5mins 7secs.
Tanner Eberle was the provider as DeLuca made amends for his misdemeanour with the go ahead goal.
MK were then on the end of three calls by referees Stefan Hogarth and Adam Hands – first Cole Shudra was sin binned for tripping on 12mins 3secs before Wallace went for slashing in the 16th minute.
Just over a minute into that penalty Robbie Baillargeon joined him in box on a hooking call – that put MK at a five on three disadvantage. However they survived that to end the period just one goal behind.
Pressure on Sheffield net saw netminder Jackson Whistle make a couple of great saves before the puck ran loose and Nelson Armstrong was able to set up Andreas Valdix to score against his old employers for the equaliser on 27mins 6secs.
The celebrations were cut short though when Evan McGrath and DeLuca were involved as Steelers captain Jonathan Phillips fired past goalie Patrick Killeen to edge his team in front again on 28mins 55secs.
Lightning could make no headway when DeLuca was sidelined for holding an opponent’s stick at the end of the second session while a third period man advantage was brief as Michael Fine was penalised for a high stick only ten seconds after John Armstrong went for the same offence.
In a last gasp bid to gain an equaliser MK pulled Killeen for the extra skater and then called a timeout but it was to no avail with Steelers holding on for the precious points which saw them climb one place in the table and Lightning’s winless streak stretch to six games.
Man of the match: Patrick Killeen (sponsored by Smith Recycling)