Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning’s long wait for a win came to an end with a superb, battling performance against Patton Conference rivals Coventry Blaze at MK Arena on Saturday.
After the disappointment of losing the previous five games – including eight periods without scoring at home – Lightning finally got ‘the monkey off their back’ when Denny Kearney registered from close range 1min 33secs into the final period – threatening to raise the roof of the arena, such was the noise.
From that moment on Lightning always looked the more likely winners. And so it proved as they went in front with another Kearney strike and they then capped a rousing performance with an empty net goal from captain Kevin King with 50 seconds remaining to seal a 3-1 victory.
Earlier though it looked as though it might be one of those nights when, for all their effort, Lightning would not be able to score.
The hosts were handed an early powerplay when Brett Robinson was called for hooking – the best effort being an Evan Stoflet effort which was deflected by a Coventry defenceman.
After King was penalised for tripping in the fourth minute Blaze threatened with Luke Ferrara blocked at the left post and goalie Miika Wiikman denying Brett Robinson.
Wiikman twice prevented Adam Courchaine efforts while Francis Verreault-Paul was in the sin bin for interference on goalie Kevin Nastiuk.
It was therefore slightly surprising that Coventry’s go ahead goal on 16mins 15secs was the result of a weak shot from Ryan Dingle which somehow eluded Wiikman.
The home side ended the session with a four minute powerplay after Dax Lauwers was penalised for a high stick on Kyle Essery which drew blood from his mouth.
Lightning couldn’t capitalise on the chance though but as the period went on they stepped up the gas with the Blaze net coming under intense pressure.
There was an ugly moment when Vojtech Kloz brought Essery down clutching his right knee midway through the period – the big Blaze defencement receiving two minutes for kneeing while the MK man played no further part in the game.
The injury incensed both the partisan home fans and Essery’s team mates so it was little surprise that within a couple of minutes Tommy Mele dropped the gloves to do battle with Kloz – both receiving five minutes for fighting.
Still though the score remained 1-0 to Blaze at the second intermission.
That quickly changed as Kearney rifled the puck in to the right of Nastiuk on 41mins 33secs – the relief was palpable both among the home supporters and the team and there was then the belief that Lightning could go on and win the encounter.
A five on three powerplay gave them the chance to edge in front after Jordan Pietrus was sent to the cooler for cross checking Verreault-Paul and then Kevin Noble followed him in for delaying the game after planting himself in the Blaze net.
With one second left of the two man advantage Verreault-Paul had a hand in the strike from Kearney at 48mins 2secs.
Back at even strength Coventry battled in vain for an equaliser – Pietrus denied by Wiikman ahead of Verreault-Paul going to the sin bin for holding the opponent’s stick – Robinson forcing a save from the MK on the resulting powerplay.
Nastiuk was withdrawn in favour of the extra skater with 1min 4secs left – a move which quickly backfired when Christian Isackson went up the left, his cross to King being sent into the back of the empty net six seconds later.
Blaze coach called an immediate timeout but it was too late to prevent the home fans being sent home delighted.
Photo: Tony Sargent