Belfast Giants inflicted Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning’s third home defeat of the season in a result that was an exact reverse of MK’s 6-3 win in September.
There was no denying that Lightning were beaten by the better team at MK Arena on Saturday – Giants reinforcing their position at the top of the Elite League with a fine performance in which they were often quicker to the puck and able to make their accurate passing count where it mattered most – in front of goal.
While the game saw personal triumphs for Matt Nickerson and Jonathan Boxill who both scored their debut goals of the season – the American also picking up the man of the match award – they would have gladly swopped those achievements for a home victory.
But after Nickerson was set free by Francis Verreault-Paul to dance his way through the Giants’ defence to register from close range on 2mins 23secs, the visitors made most of the running with all three of their unanswered replies coming as a result of razor sharp reactions in front of the net.
Once Giants had seen off a sixth minute hooking call on Sébastien Sylvestre they were handed a powerplay of their own as Tommy Mele went for elbows and then goalie Miika Wiikman being given a delay of the game penalty for knocking his net off its moorings.
Eventually the five on three pressure by Giants paid off when David Rutherford crossed from the left for Darcy Murphy’s to one time the puck into the goal for the leveller at 10mins 2secs.
Lightning enjoyed a short spell with a two man advantage as Murphy, for interference, and netminder, Jackson Whistle, for delaying the game (dislodging his goal); saw Belfast reduced to three skaters. But MK could not make it pay.
The second period was just 1min 22secs old when Lightning fell into arrears – Spiro Goulakos the provider on the left for Brit Colin Shields to turn the puck in past Wiikman.
Denny Kearney and Guillaume Doucet tried to work an immediate response to the goal but the move came to nothing and just under five minutes later, on 26mins 40secs, Wiikman’s goal was breached again. Ryan Martinelli, on the right, was the supplier for Murphy to again swiftly turn the puck past the goalie.
When Francis Verreault-Paul was sin binned for tripping in the 29th minute it was the home side that had probably the most promising opportunity with Lewis Hook going on a breakaway, only to see his shot blocked and Boxill not able to follow up.
Back at even strength Lightning cut the deficit on 33mins as they caused confusion in front of the Belfast goal – Verreault-Paul and Doucet involved in Kearney’s strike from close range.
Giants threatened early in the third session when both teams were reduced to four skaters – Steve Saviano serving time for diving and MK for a face off violation – with Wiikman throwing his body to the ice to block Brendan Connolly shot.
Although unsuccessful then Giants did edge further ahead on 46mins 39secs – but only after referee Tom Darnell consulted a video replay several times to ascertain that Martinelli’s shot had crossed the line before Wiikman knocked his net off its moorings.
Any slim hope Pete Russell’s men had was extinguished by Saviano’s fantastic top shelf shot to the far side of Wiikman on 51mins 13secs.
There was some consolation as Carl Hudson’s blue line blast was fumbled by Whistle to allow Boxill to follow up with a simple tap in at 55mins 4secs to make it 5-3.
Raine spent most of the final two minutes in the sin bin for roughing on Kearney – Russell calling an immediate time out and withdrawing Wiikman for the extra skater in a move which backfired within eight seconds as Saviano calmly dribbled the puck into the empty net at 58mins 6secs.
Man of the Match: Matt Nickerson.