REPORT: Lightning secure qualification for play off competition with road win in Wiltshire (29 March)

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Milton Keynes Lightning logo Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning are on their way to the Championship Play-off Finals at Coventry after a 6-4 victory at Swindon Wildcats on Wednesday secured their place in the semi-finals. Lightning remain clear leaders of Group B with an undefeated record and they will be looking to maintain that position when they travel to Basingstoke Bison for a difficult encounter on Saturday.

Defenceman James Neil in action during last weekend's vital home win against play off group B rivals Basingstoke Bison. Photo by Tony SargentBut the Swindon win means they can finish no lower than second in the group and will go to Coventry for the big weekend on April 8 and 9.

The EPL Play Offs are a standalone competition at the end of the English Premier League regular season, with the top eight doing battle in two groups at the quarter finals - the top two teams from each group progressing to the final weekend at the Skydome Arena in Coventry.

Lightning went a goal behind early on at The Link Centre but hit back to take a 4-1 lead before the sides traded goals in the latter stages – the visitors always ahead by at least two goals.

Pete Russell’s men were again without Milan Baranyk and Frankie Bakrlik as well as Michael Farn who had stepped in for the absence of James Griffin at the weekend – Griffin returning to the team.

Former Manchester marksman Robin Kovar put Wildcats in front on 9mins 51secs, assisted by ex-Telford pair, Phil Hill and Max Birbraer.

However home advantage did not last long thanks to a two minute holding call on Lee Richardson on 12mins 15secs.

Fifteen seconds before the penalty was due to expire Lewis Hook and Antti Hölli assisted as defenceman Leigh Jamieson fired in his third goal of the season – his first since October 8 – to put Lightning level.

Swindon had a chance to edge in front again before the first period ended when Blaz Emersic was sin binned for hooking on 17mins 29secs but they were unable to make anything of it and the teams went into the break all square.

Mikolaj Lopuski set up Adam Carr to test goalie Stevie Lyle four minutes into the middle stanza before Luc Johnson and Ed Knaggs were involved in the go ahead goal for the travellers – Jordan Cownie on target at 27mins 48secs.

Hölli then registered unassisted to put his team clear on a delayed penalty after 33mins 35secs and when Tomasz Malasinski was sent to the penalty box for tripping on 38mins 27secs it took Russell’s players just 10 seconds to take their tally to four – Cownie bagging his second of the night, helped by James Neil and Hölli.

Lightning were again forced to defend a short-handed spell within 44 seconds of the start of the final period – this time for too many men on the ice – but once more Wildcats failed to find a way through.

They did, however, reduce the gap while Jamieson was serving time for tripping – Malasinski on target at 45mins 12secs.

A Wildcats penalty for too many men less than two minutes later came and went without consequence but Lightning were able to stretch their lead to three again on 48mins 56secs with Jamieson and Hook involved in Emersic’s strike to make it 5-2.

Wildcats pulled Lyle for the extra skater while they were on a powerplay resulting from an interference call on Jamieson – it didn’t have the desired result as far they were concerned.

There was a glimmer of hope though when veteran Neil Liddiard found a way through to take the score to 5-3 with 2mins 59secs remaining.

After Malasinski was penalised for hooking at 57mins 24secs Emersic made the most of the powerplay, assisted by Craig Scott and Hook, to make it 6-3 with only 1min 8secs remaining.

A further Swindon goal from Stephen Whitfield with just 26 seconds of the game left proved to be too little, too late to have any bearing on the result – Wildcats now almost certainly out of the running for a Coventry spot.

On Sunday the Lightning compete on home ice for the final time in the current season, when they face the Hull Pirates at 5.30pm. The fixture will mark the club’s final home appearance as part of the English Premier League, ahead of their move to the sport’s top tier - the Elite League - in September.

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