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Verreault-Paul Gives Lightning the Edge

An overtime goal from Francis Verreault-Paul ensured Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning ended the weekend with maximum points after a 5-4 victory at high-flying Manchester Storm on Sunday.

There was never more than a goal separating the two sides – apart from when Lightning took a two goal lead within the first four minutes of the second session. That was quickly reduced to one just over two minutes later as Manchester cut the deficit and then equalised by the half way stage.

In the third period Storm struck first, only for the visitors to make it 4-4 less than two minutes later. And that’s the way it stayed until Guillaume Doucet and Carl Hudson had the helpers when Verreault-Paul ended the game with his strike to give Lightning the two points 2mins 50secs into the extra five minutes.

The win expunged the memory of Lightning’s last visit to Altrincham which ended in a heavy defeat.

Storm must have hoped they were in line for a repeat of that win when man of the match Matt Stanisz set up Mike Hammond to beat goalie Miika Wiikman after 2mins 18secs.

But a slashing call on Shane Bakker gave Lightning a powerplay in the 13th minute and they wasted no time in making the most of it with Kevin King the provider for Doucet to finish off just 21 seconds into the man advantage – MK’s man of the match Verreault-Paul was involved in that goal as well.

A series of penalties before the first buzzer came and went without any change to the score. First Verreault-Paul incurred a hooking penalty, followed by an illegal equipment call on Matt Nickerson.

Storm goalie Mike Clemente was handed an interference penalty in the 15th minute, ahead of a delay of the game call on Ludwig Karlsson with the hosts’ Paul Swindlehurst ending the period in the sin bin for slashing.

On Saturday Lightning scored on the powerplay after a record seven seconds – on Sunday they beat that when Storm’s Linden Springer was sent to the cooler only 24 seconds into the middle session. Within an incredible four seconds they were punished by Doucet’s go ahead goal, assisted by Denny Kearney and that man, Verreault-Paul.

As soon as Springer merged from the sin bin he was back there almost immediately – this time on a kneeing penalty. And again he and his team were punished in the best possible way with Verreault-Paul and Kearney having a hand in Paul Phillips’ goal against his old team at 23mins 43secs.

But Lightning’s joy at being two goals to the good was short-lived thanks to former Basingstoke Bison Ciaran Long who dragged Manchester back into the game on 25mins 59secs.

Stanisz then registered unassisted to put Storm back on terms after 28mins 36secs. The home side were unable to make anything of a slashing call on Verreault-Paul going into the final three minutes of the period so the session ended all square at three apiece.

That changed 4mins 43secs into the third period when another former Bison, Declan Balmer, was the supplier for Matt Beca’s ninth goal of the season.

The lead lasted all of 35 seconds and once more Verreault-Paul was involved – this time being the finisher for the equaliser from Doucet and Carl Hudson.

Lightning saw out a slashing call on Jonathan Boxill and high stick penalty on Kearney with no damage and so overtime beckoned – ended prematurely thanks to Verreault-Paul’s 10th goal of the season.

The point Storm earned put them back on the top of the Elite League with 22 points – Lightning seventh but only five points behind, such is the competitive nature of top tier hockey this year.

Man of the match: Francis Verault-Paul

By Paul Brookman