Sheffield Steelers were left stunned by Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning for the second time at MK Arena on Saturday when Peter Russell’s team inflicted a 5-2 defeat in front of a season record crowd of 2,467.
Wins have been hard to come by for injury-hit Lightning in recent weeks so this one was probably even more satisfying than when the city side defeated Sheffield 7-2 in November. That was the first ever victory by a Milton Keynes team over Steelers.
With goalie Miika Wiikman sidelined with concussion following a collision in the previous weekend’s game against Nottingham Panthers, Russell faced a difficult week finding a replacement. His search eventually ended with the recruitment of Wiikman’s back-up at Panthers last year, Jindrich ‘Henry’ Pacl.
And Pacl didn’t disappoint – pulling off a series of excellent saves as Lightning were outshot by a 49-26 margin. In reality he kept Lightning in the game at times and no one would have argued with him being the recipient of the man of the match award instead of two goal hero Kevin King.
What was also doubly pleasing was the fact that three of Lightning’s tally came from powerplays – including both King scores.
Few home fans probably would have forecast that their favourites could have repeated the November success – even when Lightning led 3-2 at the second break. But as the game moved into the final ten minutes belief began to grow, especially when King added his second with less than eight minutes to go.
Lightning suffered an early blow when Francis Verreault-Paul was called for cross-checking but they survived the short-handed spell and a further one as Ben Foster was penalised for charging. MK opened the scoring when Lewis Hook supplied Guillaume Doucet to blast the puck high to the left of netminder, Ervins Mustukovs at 13mins 16secs.
The hosts couldn’t make anything of a 14th minute call on Joonas Rönnberg for cross checking but they maintained their 1-0 advantage at the first break.
As the second period began Steelers’ Levi Nelson was denied at close quarters by Pacl shortly before the same player gave MK a four minute man advantage as he was caught checking to the head.
Lightning made the most of it with Paul Phillips making a cross ice pass on the blue line for King to send a rocket shot through Steelers’ defence and into the back of the net for goal number two at 22mins 37secs.
No damage resulted from a 24th minute penalty on Doucet for interference but the hosts were caught out as Mark Matheson made the pass for Brit Liam Kirk to shoot home from the left at 27mins 25secs.
It looked as though the game was swinging Steelers’ way when the visitors equalised through Nelson on 32mins 7secs – following a prolonged discussion by the two referees, Matt Thompson and Stefan Hogarth, plus linesman Jason Earl.
However it was not long before Lightning were back in front – Matt Marquardt being sin binned for roughing and Verreault-Paul making the supply for an excellent shot from a tight angle by Hook at 35mins 47secs.
Lightning held the single goal lead at the start of the third session and looked to be tiring slightly as the game went on. They were unable to add to the score when afforded a five on three powerplay with Steelers’ Andreas Valdix and Tim Wallace both in the sin bin at the same time.
However Sheffield were made to pay after Mathieu Roy was sidelined for delaying the game by clearing the puck over the Plexiglas. With two players shielding goalie Mustukovs the Lightning captain, King, shot home from long range to make it 4-2 at 52mins 17secs.
Steelers withdrew Mustukovs with 1min 24secs to go in favour of the extra attacker. But the move backfired when Verreault-Paul scored unassisted with nine seconds remaining for a short-handed goal after Denny Kearney had been sent to the cooler for slashing six seconds earlier.
It was a welcome win which should do much to boost players’ confidence.
Man of the match: Kevin King.
By Paul Brookman