By Paul Brookman
Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning chalked up another victory to maintain their run of home successes and top spot in their Challenge Cup group on Saturday with a 5-1 win against Coventry Blaze.
Yet they hardly deserved to be 2-0 in front at the first break with the visitors dominating the play – certainly in terms of shots on goal – a fact reflected in the man of the match award being given to goalie Miika Wiikman who denied Blaze on several occasions in the first 20 minutes.
It was only in the second half of the game that Lightning stamped their authority on the clash between the local rivals with Blaze definitely second best in the final period.
For a considerable part of the game the encounter was a fractious affair with Lightning’s Matt Nickerson and Blaze’s Danick Paquette both sitting five minute majors for fighting at the end of the first session.
Nickerson was to get his marching orders in the 34th minute for a second offence – this time for a check from behind.
Quin Pompi fired Lightning ahead on 5mins 19secs with blue line blast through traffic which eluded goalie Kevin Nastiuk. A minute or so later Blaze had a good chance when Jordan Pietrus was denied by Wiikman before Francis Verreault-Paul tried to set up Denny Kearney who shot over the bar.
After Blaze’s Ben Lake was sin binned for hooking it was the visitors who had the best opportunity – Pietrus breaking away with Carl Hudson closing him down illegally by slashing him. That resulted in a penalty shot which Wiikman blocked to maintain Lightning’s advantage.
Marc-Olivier Vallerand twice threatened – first with his own shot and then putting David Clements clear for a shot which was not good enough to beat Wiikman.
Paquette’s pass to Adam Courchaine met a similar fate before Blaze were made to pay when Ben Foster registered unassisted on 17mins 7secs for a 2-0 lead.
Nickerson and Paquette’s first sessions were both ended early by their little bout with little to choose in terms of winner.
After the impressive Paul Phillips had his early second period effort blocked Vallerand danced his way up the left only to shoot wide and then had a further shot saved before Lightning struck again.
If Blaze were the better of the two sides then they lost that position as the game went on.
It was only after Nickerson was expelled for a checking from behind in the 34th minute that the travellers were able to break Wiikman’s resolve, Lake trying to redirect a shot from the blue line without success before Luke Ferrara finished off for a powerplay goal on 38mins 10secs.
At 3-1 going into the final period it was still anybody’s game but Lightning were determined to make sure it was to be their night. Kevin King tested Nastiuk early on with Kevin Gibson trying to set up Foster without success.
A penalty call on Vallerand for holding James Griffin proved to Blaze’s undoing as Denny Kearney played the puck across the face of goal for Guillaume Doucet to rifle into the net on the powerplay at 46mins 1secs.
If that goal didn’t put the clash beyond Blaze then goal number five certainly did. That came on 52mins 6secs when Verreault-Paul was the provider for Kearney.
Blaze’s chances were further hampered a few seconds later as Ferrara was sin binned for charging, Lightning rarely threatened in the closing stages for another great night at MK Arena.
Man of the match: Miika Wiikman