By Paul Brookman
It was backs against the wall as Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning held on for a Challenge Cup victory against Coventry Blaze on Saturday.
After grabbing two second stanza goals in in ten minute spell of sustained pressure Lightning were outshot 19-3 in the final period. But despite Blaze head coach Danny Stewart withdrawing netminder Miika Wiikman during a last gasp powerplay to create a six on four situation the home defence remained unbreached.
And as Lightning returned to full strength, the withdrawal of Wiikman backfired on the visitors when Michael Fine shot home for an empty net goal to secure a 4-2 win with 9.9 seconds remaining.
The success was all the more creditable for Lightning were still without Nelson Armstrong, yet to arrive in the country, Martin Mazanec, suspended, and the injured Owen Griffiths. That meant Trevor Morbeck and Cole Shudra assumed defensive duties with the result that the side was a player short of a three full forward lines against a full Coventry roster of 19 players – including impressive new signing Tim Crowder.
Things had looked ominous for Lightning at the end of a first period in which Blaze had the upper hand to lead 2-1 at the break. And for the first half of the middle stanza the West Midlands outfit still looked the team most likely to go home with the points.
Then Lightning turned up the gas to produce two vital goals to go ahead with a lead they were never to surrender.
Within the first 25 seconds of the start Eric Neiley set up Radek Meidl for a chance which Wiikman was able to get to before the first penalties saw MK’s Trevor Morbeck and Blaze’s Ben Lake consigned to their respective coolers for hooking on 1min 11secs.
The four on four spell produced no goals but back at full strength it was Lightning who opened their account when extreme pressure on the Blaze net ended with Neiley poking the puck in at 3mins 46sec from Meidl’s supply.
A hooking penalty on David Norris gave Blaze a sixth minute powerplay and they made the most of it when Nicolai Bryhnisveen blasted in from the blue line for Kevin Morris to redirect the puck past netminder Patrick Killeen on 8mins 27secs.
From then on in the first session most of the chances fell to Blaze – Shawn Pauley supplying Ben Lake for an attempt blocked by Killeen and then a weak Lake effort failed to catch out the goalie.
Meidl had an attempt saved seconds before Coventry edged in front on 18mins 41secs when Crowder – brother of Cardiff Devils’ star Paul – was provider for Lake to score from close range.
There was a subdued start to the second period with neither side producing a worthwhile effort in the opening minutes until Killeen was called to action to thwart Justin Hache. Neiley went on a break with Meidl but instead of passing to the Czech the former Sheffield Steeler shot – only for his strike to be blocked.
Lightning got back on terms with a goal out of nothing as Morbeck was the supplier for Fine at 28mins 30secs to make it 2-2. Norris and Meidl then had chances to put MK in front before Coventry thought they had scored – Jake Hansen’s blast was blocked but not held by Killeen and as the puck ran loose Morris got a touch to put the puck in the net. However after a video replay the officials rightly ruled that the net was off its moorings when the puck crossed the line.
Norris’ determination in front of goal produced dividends with a goal on 35mins 37secs after good work by Fine and Meidl to put Lightning 3-2 in front – it was a lead they were never to give up despite intense pressure in the third session.
Lightning had their first powerplay of the match on 42mins 43secs when Kelin Ainsworth was penalised for tripping Neiley – however the hosts produced no shots of note with Blaze pushing them into the neutral zone.
Blaze did better on their next powerplay after Joonas Huovinen was called for holding – but still no goal resulted as the visitors failed to turn pressure into shots on goal.
Both coaches called timeouts in the final four minutes but it was not until Wiikman was withdrawn and Lightning had survived a slashing penalty on Tim Wallace that they put the game to bed with man of the match Fine’s empty net strike at 59mins 50secs.
- NEXT HOME GAME: It’s another home Challenge Cup clash on Saturday 22 September when our opposition are the Guildford Flames – the puck drops at 7pm and once again we want you to PINK THE RINK!
Tickets on sale now – buy in person at Planet Ice MK Arena, phone 01908 540020 or get online at mk-lightning.co.uk/tickets