Tigers Claw Their Way To Victory. Hexagon Telford Tigers returned to home ice for the second leg of the playoff quarter final after a terrific victory in Milton Keynes the previous day. Telford had a narrow one goal advantage at the start of play and came into the game in good form having won their last three games.
Ricky Plant had returned to the line up for the previous game but Jack Watkins was unavailable after taking a hard hit in the first leg of the quarter final.
The opening period was fast paced with hardly any stoppages. The only goal of the period belonged to Telford. Jake Price hit a shot that broke his stick and the puck fell kindly to Rhodes Mitchell-King who shot at Jordan Hedley in the Lighting goal. The shot was saved but landed in the right circle, allowing Fin Howells to shoot low into the open net to give Tigers the lead.
In the second period both teams had periods of dominance and scored goals when on top.
Tigers started the period in perfect fashion by scoring after just thirty seconds. With a power play carried over from the first period after Rio Grinell-Park was called for slashing, Howells made a superb pass to pick out Vladimir Luka in the right circle and the in form Luka smashed a first time shot past Hedley for Tigers’ second goal. The lead was increased five minutes later when Sam Watkins was the provider for Luka’s second of the night.
Milton Keynes struck back with two quick goals midway through the period. Liam Stewart banked the puck in off Brad Day’s skates with a shot from behind the goal. Then, Matt Stewart scored with a shot through a crowd when Lightning had a power play after Gareth O’Flaherty was called for tripping.
A further power play for Milton Keynes gave them another chance when Day was called for unsporting conduct. Lightning spent much of the power play in Tigers’ defensive zone and Day made a magnificent save, whilst recovering his position from a previous save, he threw his leg pad up to clear the puck and saved a certain goal.
But just as Milton Keynes appeared to be back in the game Tigers and Luka struck again. Scott McKenzie sent a fantastic pass from his own blue line to the unmarked Luka on the opposite blue line. Luka skated in unopposed and waited out Hedley before sending the puck past him for Tigers fourth goal and his hat trick. There was still time for one more goal in the period and Telford added a fifth late on. Danny Rose won the puck in the Lightning’ defensive zone and passed to McKenzie in the slot. McKenzie hammered a shot through Hedley into the net to give Tigers a four goal aggregate lead at the end of the second period.
Tigers conceded far too many penalties in the third period and paid the price by conceding goals. Lucas Price was serving a hooking penalty when Deakan Fielder was called for boarding and Herrman was called for abuse of official, giving Milton Keynes an extended 5-on-3 power play.
Within a minute, Lightning had pulled back two goals. Sean Norris scoring both from almost identical shots from the right circle. Then with one penalty still on the clock, Lightning scored a third power play goal, Norris completing a remarkable hat trick with a shot from the point that beat the screened Day.
With five minutes of the game left, Lightning needed another goal to send the game to overtime and Tigers had to hold out.
Some resolute defending and Day at his finest kept Milton Keynes at bay. With ninety seconds left on the clock, Hedley was pulled from goal to give Lightning an extra attacker. The away team laid siege to the Tigers’ goal but could not break through and the home crowd celebrated and breathed a sigh of relief as the buzzer went to end the game. Tigers are through to the semi finals of the Final Four next Saturday in Coventry.
Final Score: Hexagon Telford Tigers 5 Milton Keynes Lightning 5 (Aggregate score 8-7).
Scorers: Vladimir Luka (3), Fin Howells and Scott McKenzie.
Man of the match: Brad Day.
After the game Head Coach Tom Watkins, commented, “What a night! We saw the drama of live sport and there is nothing quite like it, you couldn’t write it. What an emotional rollercoaster. It felt like we were in complete control half way through the third period and then the game was on its head with a succession of penalties very nearly costing us the tie. I thought we managed the game extremely well, scored big goals, answered back quickly when they took a step forward and kept that momentum squarely in our favour. Huge credit to the players to knock out the second seed from where we have been this season. That is some accomplishment right there. We could have folded with only a one goal lead and a few minutes remaining but we kept our composure and defended with such poise and a huge amount of heart. I’m incredibly proud of the players, they were a different level all weekend. The support from our fans was tremendous on both nights and I can’t thank them enough.”
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