REPORT: MKL 2-4 Basingstoke (17 Feb)
Basingstoke Bison tightened their grip on their place at the top of the English Premier League with a 4-2 victory over Smith Recycling sponsored MK Lightning at MK Arena on Wednesday.
And with Peterborough Phantoms, in second spot, and Guildford Flames, in fourth, also winning, it meant Lightning are now facing a battle to hold onto third spot in the table.
The turning point was a match penalty on defenceman Lewis Christie for a check to the head of Tomas Karpov â€“ plus a bench minor abuse of an official call which reduced Lightning to three skaters.
Although Christieâ€™s penalty was immediately downgraded to game when Karpov returned to the ice, MK, leading 1-0, could not hold out with two men down with Miroslav Vantroba able to make the most of the extra space with a blue line rocket which eluded goalie Dean Skinns at 33mins 19secs.
Bison then edged in front with 1min 1sec of the second session remaining when former MK man Rene Jarolinâ€™s long pass from defence found Joe Greener who broke away and shot from distance. Skinns appeared to have stopped the effort but it trickled over the line.
Earlier Lightning had a one goal advantage at the end of a subdued first period in which realistic chances were few and far between.
Bisonâ€™s Declan Balmer had the only shot on target during the powerplay which followed when Lightning captain Adam Carr was penalised for hooking after only 2mins 13secs.
Back at even strength Joe Greener tested out goalie Dean Skinns from long range before had his effort turned away by Bison stopper Jon Baston.
The hosts had a powerplay of their own as Balmer was sidelined for two minutes on a slashing call. Although MK could make nothing of it they quickly had the puck in the net a second after it ended with Lewis Hook feeding James Griffin on the left to beat Baston at 8mins 12secs.
From then on there was little to trouble either netminder with Skinns able to block a mid range attempt by former MK man Rene Jarolin while Ed Knaggsâ€™ drive from the blue line met a similar fate.
Bison possibly went closest to troubling Skinns in the 18th minute after Tomas Karpov crossed from the left for Daniel Lackey but the youngster was prevented from getting a shot away and the puck was quickly cleared from danger.
After Bisonâ€™s late second period lead Lightning responded with a high velocity start to the third in which Frankie Bakrlik (twice) and Martti Jarventie both forced good saves from Baston before Blaz Emersic levelled from Leigh Jamieson at 44mins 40secs.
There was an immediate response from Bison as Aaron Connolly set up Jarolin to score just 25 seconds later, giving the visitors the edge again.
Lightning failed to produce enough shots on goal when Kurt Reynolds was penalised for interference on Bobby Chamberlain with just under ten minutes to go.
Glenn Billing tried to set up Carr who was unable to get his shot away shortly before Jarolin went close at the left post.
A long pass out of defence found Jordan Cownie who tried, unsuccessfully, to fool Baston with a shot on the turn as time ran out for Lightning.
Lightning called a timeout with exactly two minutes remaining, taking off Skinns for the extra skater ten seconds later. The goalie initially returned to the ice when Connolly was sin binned for hooking but leaving again with 45 seconds to go.
Almost inevitably Bison were able to add a fourth goal a fraction of a section before the buzzer as Karpov scored on the empty net.
Man of the Match: Dean Skinns
Report: Paul Brookman