REPORT: Lightning 2 – 6 Flames (EPL Play Off Final, 3 April)

Smith Recycling sponsored MK Lightning’s dreams of ending their season on the highest possible note were shattered by Guildford Flames in a 6-2 defeat in the championship play-off final at Coventry Skydome on Sunday.

The difference between the sides came down to Flames’ incisive powerplay lines who scored on no less than four of the six occasions they had at least a man advantage.

Conversely Lightning were unable to convert on any of their four powerplays. Even handed, there was little to choose between the two outfits with Flames just edging it 36-34 in terms of shots on goal.

Lightning ran into penalty trouble towards the end of the period – and it proved costly with Guildford striking twice in just over two minutes.

Markku Tahtinen was sin binned for hooking Marcus Kristofferson right in front of the penalty boxes after 14mins 45secs and that provided the opening for Kevin Phillips, racing towards the net, to crash the puck past goalie Dean Skinns at 16mins 23secs.

Less than a minute later Jordan Cownie was penalised for hooking on 16mins 23secs and within 12 seconds he was joined by Tahtinen who was caught holding Matic Kralj.

With a five on three short handed spell Lightning faced a tough battle.

Eventually they gave way with Kralj exacting revenge with Flames second goal set up by Tom Duggan at 18mins 45secs to give Guildford a 2-0 lead at the first break.

As the middle session got underway MK sought to get quickly back in the game with Bobby Chamberlain setting up Lewis Hook for a shot which just failed to reach target. The same pairing were involved in the next effort when Hook was unable to connect with Chamberlain’s pass.

Frankie Bakrlik put netminder Richard Ullberg under pressure at the left pipe before Blaz Emersic tried to score from a similar position.

Lightning were given a powerplay chance when Lee Esders was sent to the sin bin for tripping Cownie on 26mins 20secs but Pete Russell’s men could not break through with the extra man.

And things got even tougher for MK when, with Skinns stranded on the ice and already committed, Duggan was able to lift the puck and find a gap behind him from the left to make it 3-0 at 30mins 16secs.

But there was a glimmer of hope before the second buzzer with Lightning creating some confusion in front of the net – Bakrlik finishing off from Cownie and James Griffin on 38mins 4secs.

Within 50 seconds of the restart Emersic tried to set up Bakrlik but his pass was cut out by the Guildford defence.

A powerplay for Lightning on 42mins 42secs came and went without any score – Kralj called for hooking with Flames preventing clear shots on goal while short handed.

It was a bench minor penalty for too many men – served by Cownie – at 50mins 34secs that killed any lingering hope of a late comeback for the trailing outfit.

Once again Flames capitalised on the powerplay with Janis Ozolins finding Danny Meyers unmarked at the far post to lift the puck into the goal for his team’s fourth goal on 51mins 5secs.

Back at full strength MK took 2mins 15secs to respond with their second goal – Michael Farn blasting in from the blue line and Tahtinen and then Hook credited with getting touches as the puck eluded Ullberg.

Within 19 seconds Flames hit back with goal number five. This time Andrew Hemmings, supplied by Jez Lundin, sent the puck past Skinns.

After Flames registered their sixth strike following a breakaway by Ben Campbell on the powerplay at 56mins 7secs – Griffin in the sin bin for delaying the game – Skinns looked totally demoralised. It was an  unjust reaction for the goalie who had played a good game but in the end was the victim of Flames’ well drilled special units.

Despite the result Lightning could hold their heads high. Two weeks ago many fans were doubting whether they would make the finals weekend. To not only do that but reach the final was something to be proud of.

Man of the Match: James Griffin

Report: Paul Brookman

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