MK Lightning's valiant fight back falls just short in 5-4 loss to the Hull Pirates

Image Credit: © Tony Sargent

The Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning's efforts to claim points in the opening game of the season fell just short despite a valiant fight back, seeing the Hull Pirates earn a 5-4 victory.

The Lightning fought valiantly and were the dominant team for 40 minutes of the game, but their strong play and determination went unrewarded after opening the game with a fairly sloppy first period.

The home side started on the front foot, testing the visitors' goaltender and defence within just a few seconds, but it was the Pirates that quickly took control of the game in the first period.

Three goals were scored by the Pirates within the first nine minutes of the game, with two of them coming from tap-ins after goaltender Jordan Lawday saved initial shots, with the third itself bouncing into the net from the back of Lawday's pads.

With the score already at 3-0, things became heated, seeing Grant McPherson and Jordan Fisher drop the gloves in Hull's zone, much to the delight of the home crowd.

Finnish centre Ari Narhi pulled the Lightning back within two around four minutes after the fight, winning a neutral zone face-off before taking the puck himself and scoring on a breakaway against Ash Smith.

Hull scored less than two minutes later, dampening the spirits of the home crowd and seeing the two sides enter the break with the visitors leading 4-1.

Indiscipline is one word that could have described the opening 20 minutes, with both sides combining for 28 total penalty minutes - with the Pirates owning 16 of them.

But things began to change in the second period, with the Lightning coming out guns blazing and with a new determination.

James Griffin scored a power-play goal just 25 seconds into the period, seeing his wrist shot from the point fly past everyone and hit the twine.

With just two goals separating the sides, the Lightning continued to push hard and had a number of chances blocked or saved by Smith, who kept the visitors in it right to the end.

The Pirates capitalised on a defensive error that led to a breakaway goal for Jason Hewitt, leaving the Lightning with a tough challenge to reduce the gap that had now returned to three goals.

But that was the last time the Pirates scored, with the Lightning continuing to push forward more and more. Tomas Kana scored a smooth five-hole wrist shot after a nice passing move from Russ Cowley and Cale Tanaka, bringing the score to 5-3 at the end of the second period.

The Lightning continued to battle in the third and were much the stronger side throughout, with Tanaka himself getting a goal after a Jordan Stokes shot from the point deflected in front of him.

With the home side just one goal away from sending the game into overtime, Lewis Clifford's men continued to press hard and take every chance that fell to them.

Smith, named the Pirates' man of the match, managed to keep a shot out with the back of his leg pad and a goal for the Lightning was ruled out after he had been knocked into his own net, albeit from his own teammate.

The final buzzer went and the Lightning fans and players will have felt that they deserved something from the game, with them looking the far stronger side for at least two-thirds of play.

Speaking after the game, Clifford commented: "I've said on record I think Hull are the best team in the league and we've just proved, over forty minutes, that we can go toe-to-toe with them."

"Unfortunately, we put ourselves in a position in the first period that we just couldn't claw ourselves back from."

"We just weren't mentally prepared to play from the first drop of the puck."

Despite the slow start from the team, Clifford believes that nerves were not a factor in the game.

He said: "I don't think there's any reason for anyone to feel nervous. We played that exact same team for 120 minutes last weekend."

"We knew exactly what they would do and what kind of plays they're looking for and the way they play the game so I don't think it should've come as a surprise to any of my guys."

"There are so many positives to take from the second and third periods but the first period is what killed us tonight and, against a team that good, it's very hard to claw back from a deficit like that after twenty minutes."

The game was Clifford's first competitive fixture as the team's official head coach, with the crowd growing stronger in their voice throughout and helping to spur the players on.

Speaking of his first game in charge, Clifford commented: "The crowd was amazing like they always are. The noise that's being generated by the crowd, I don't think there's another building in the league that makes that kind of noise."

He concluded: "Unfortunately, we let them down for the first twenty but I hope we at least sent them home with something to be happy about, with the way that the guys did buckle in and try and fight back for the remaining forty minutes."

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