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REPORT: Lightning 3-5 Nottingham Panthers (4 Nov)

By Paul Brookman

Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning’s unbeaten home record stretching back to the start of the season was finally ended by high flying Nottingham Panthers at MK Arena on Saturday.

A couple of first period errors allowed Panthers to end the first period 3-1 in front and although Lightning clawed their way back into the game in the middle stanza to end that session just a goal behind at 4-3 the mountain proved just too big to surmount against a side who have been impressing in the European Champions League this year.

When coach Pete Russell withdrew netminder Miika Wiikman with 45 seconds remaining, Panthers seized on a loose puck and Robert Farmer skated away to score on an empty net at 59mins 41secs.

Despite the defeat – as last week in the first game at Nottingham – Lightning could hold their heads high, giving their all until the final buzzer.

The hosts welcomed back Carl Hudson back from injury and he made an immediate impact with a fine performance that deservedly won him man of the match.

Panthers’ man of the match went to goalie Michael Garnett who played 24 games in the National Hockey League for Atlanta Thrashers. Yet he was not immune to an error or two – the most significant leading to Lightning’s first goal when Ben Foster’s shot from the right went in off his skate to give the home side the lead after 7mins 23secs.

The hosts quickly had the chance to add to their tally on the powerplay when Tim Billingsley was called for tripping just 18 seconds later, but the two minutes passed with no further score.

Panthers levelled at exactly 11mins when Zack Phillips set up Mathieu Brisebois for a great shot from the right which eluded Wiikman.

Fifty-five seconds later the visitors went in front with Ollie Betteridge the provider for Robert Lachowicz whose shot Wiikman could have possibly saved.

As Lightning sought to get back into the game both Lewis Hook and Foster had efforts blocked.

Panthers’ first powerplay opportunity came when Guillaume Doucet’s hasty defensive clearance saw the puck go over the Plexiglas, earning him a delay of the game penalty. However the visitors – bench coached by former MK Kings chief, Rick Strachan, in the absence of Corey Neilson – made no headway.

They did not waste the chance though when Quin Pompi’s mistake led to a two on one break away, Jeff Brown involved when Yann Sauve made it 3-1 after 19mins 18secs.

The task looked almost impossible against a team of the stature of Nottingham going into the second session but Lightning re-grouped and held Panthers at bay – even when Jonathan Boxill was penalised for slashing in the 25th minute.

Fisticuffs broke out in the 28th minute after Tommy Mele cross-checked Panthers captain Stephen Lee – both sin binned for five minutes for fighting with the MK man assessed a further two for the initial offence and two minutes for roughing. Billingsley was given two minutes for roughing at the same time.

The outcome was a powerplay to Panthers and they made the most of the opportunity when Brett Perlini’s supply to Josh Shalla saw his shot catch Wiikman out of position to make it 4-1 on 28mins 45secs.

When Erik Lindhagen was caught hooking on 30mins 41secs Lightning took just 26secs to cut the deficit as Denny Kearney slipped the puck to Doucet to rifle high into the net.

There was no such luck though when Brisebois was sidelined for interference 90 seconds later but MK made amends in the dying minutes of the period.

Dan Spang quickly followed Zack Phillips into the penalty box – both on hooking calls – giving Lightning a two man advantage from which they gave themselves hope as Hudson feigned a shot before unleashing a rocket of a blast from distance past Garnett with 1min 49secs remaining on the session.

Panthers who had played three games in five days – including a trip to Zurich – looked to be tiring as the middle session went on.

Hudson went close but not close enough to levelling the scores in the 44th minute – his effort going wide – before Mele batted the puck into the net a minute later. Quite rightly referee Dean Smith disallowed the attempt for a high stick.

After Kyle Essery and Robert Farmer were given five minutes each in the cooler for fighting – the two having been niggling each other earlier in the game – both Kearney and Hook put pressure on Garnett without success.

In a bid to disrupt Lightning’s momentum Strachan called a Panthers timeout with just over five minutes left – it had the desired effect with Lindhagen producing possibly the only shot of note in the final minutes before Wiikman was taken off in favour of a sixth skater, allowing Farmer to seal the hosts’ fate.

NEXT HOME GAME: Lightning v Coventry Blaze 7pm Sat 11 November; buy tickets in person at Planet Ice MK Arena, by phone on 01908 540020 or online at mk-lightning.co.uk/tickets.