Cardiff Devils 6-5 MK Lightning (16th Feb)
By Paul Brookman
Short-benched Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning finally succumbed to reigning Elite League champions Cardiff Devils – but only after they had stunned them by taking a 4-1 lead at the Viola Arena on Saturday.
The game was eventually settled by a 53rd minute powerplay goal after MK defenceman Martin Mazanec was thrown out of the game on a match penalty for head-butting to make the final score 6-5 to the Welsh side. On Sunday morning the EIHL Department of Player Safety announced that the penalty had been downgraded, allowing the Czech to take part in Sunday's game against the Devils at Planet Ice.
The result prompted one Devils fan to tweet: “Early season Devils fans were complaining about boring blowout wins. I vote we bring those back,” such was the scare Lightning gave Cardiff.
Backed by a loud contingent of travelling fans Lightning quickly fell behind when Sam Duggan set up Stephen Dixon to put the hosts ahead after 2mins 29secs.
But Lightning – hit by the sudden departure of defenceman and erstwhile joint coach, Ryan Lannon, two days before – were not going to roll over that easily and they soon back in the game when Robbie Baillargeon equalised after 4mins 35secs, assisted by Georgs Golovkovs.
The visitors saw off a roughing penalty on James Griffin before taking the lead on 11mins 29secs when Golovkovs, fresh back from duty with the Latvia training camp, was again involved as man of the match Baillargeon netted again on 11mins 29secs – Andreas Valdix gaining the other assist.
Coach Tim Wallace then extended the advantage to 3-1 – aided by Cole Shudra and Owen Griffiths on 15mins 47secs – a score which was maintained to the first break.
And there was further elation for the Lightning fans within the opening two minutes of the second session as Wallace and Michael Fine led the build up to David Norris’ strike at 21mins 59secs to make the gap three goals.
However that prompted a fightback by Devils with Joey Martin cutting the deficit on 24mins 54secs before Sean Bentivoglio made it 4-3 just over a minute later at 26mins 15secs.
There was no joy for Cardiff when Lightning went on a penalty kill after Owen Griffiths was penalised in the 28th minute for a high stick. But back at even strength the scores were levelled when British defenceman Mark Richardson, assisted by Joey Haddad and Jake Morissette, fired home past goalie Patrick Killeen after 31mins 26secs.
MK stood firm when Ivan Šijan was called for holding before they edged in front again for the final time on 37mins 29secs through a Valdix powerplay goal while Haddad was in the box for hooking.
It was not until the third session that Devils – icing a full complement of 20 players from their 25 strong roster compared with Lightning’s complete roster numbering 17 men – finally equalised again 25 seconds after the face off.
This time the scoring honour went to Martin with his second of the night after being supplied by Bentivoglio and Mike Hedden.
The defining moment came on 51mins 6secs when Mazanec and Hedden clashed. The Devils forward received two minutes for roughing while Lightning’s big Czech defenceman was sent for an early shower for head butting.
From the resulting powerplay Martin completed his hat-trick to make it 6-5 to the hosts and claim the man of the match award for his team.
In a last throw of the dice Killeen was withdrawn in favour of the extra skater with 1min 20secs to go but it failed to produce a last gasp equaliser as Devils gained a another two points in their bid to retain the league title.
Man of the match: Robbie Baillargeon (sponsored by City Apartments)