Beating Milton Keynes Lightning is rarely an easy task. Doing it twice in one weekend is going the extra mile.
Having returned from a road trip to their title-chasing, third-placed opponents on Saturday night with two points - courtesy of a 4-2 win - Ryan Aldridge’s team found a way to significantly improve on that when it came to the two teams locking horns again at Elland Road last night.
Leeds were good value for their 8-2 win in front of a near-1,300 home crowd, but the Lightning - especially goaltender Matthew Smital - probably headed back down the M1 last night wondering how the margin of victory was so great, contributing as they did to another entertaining clash between the two.
That is not to take anything away from a quality performance from the home side, who secured a four-point weekend through doubles for Kieran Brown, Adam Barnes and Harry Gulliver, with Cole Shudra and Matty Davies also on the board.
They wake up this morning fifth in the table and 11 points adrift of leaders Telford Tigers, who bounced back from a Friday night loss at Peterborough Phantoms with a 5-3 win at Raiders IHC.
And while a promising run of four wins in five may come too late to have any positive impact on their NIHL National regular season title hopes - mathematically, of course, anything is still possible - it certainly bodes well for the Knights’ play-off prospects come the end of March.
Points machine Brown continued where he left off from on a two-goal Saturday night when he opened the scoring on the power play at 6.53.
After Knights’ defenceman Ross Kennedy marked his birthday by edging a centre ice tussle with Lightning’s Michael Power and Tim Wallace struck Sam Gospel’s right-hand post in the 15th minute, Brown gave his team a two-goal cushion when he broke free down the left and blasted one past Smital from the top of the left circle at 19.09.
After Lewis Baldwin and Shudra forced Smital into further saves, the hosts were left somewhat stunned when the visitors halved the deficit through Hallden Barnes-Garner strike which beat Gospel at his near post at 22.30.
But it was Brown at the centre of the action for Leeds’ reply when it came just before the halfway mark, the 20-year-old leaving his marker sprawling on the ice near the halfway mark before breaking free down the left and squaring for Barnes, who beat Smital at the second attempt.
Just under three minutes later, the lead became 4-1 when Shudra fired in from the top of the left circle, beating a slightly unsighted Smital in his top left-hand corner.
But the Lightning got their reward and kept themselves in the game shortly after, when a Leeds’ powerplay broke down to allow Sam Talbot to sprint clear and back-hand past Gospel at 33.33.
In a frantic middle period, Leeds’ response was swift Brandon Whistle finding Barnes loitering around the left hash marks from where his shot squeezed through Smital at 35.21.
But the visitors continued to threaten and came close when Adam Laishram showed neat skill down low in the left corner before working his way to the front of the net where he was denied by Gospel’s outstretched left leg.
Lightning couldn’t make a powerplay count in the early stages of the third and they were made to pay for it in the 46th minute when that man Brown again drove down the left, switched the play to Archie Hazeldine whose effort cannoned off Smital’s right pad and into the path of the oncoming Davies, who guided the puck home.
Harry Gulliver - again a bundle of end-to-end energy - got his rewards when he managed to fire off his shot before falling to the ice to make it 7-2 at 49.37.
His night got even better when a speculative effort from near the goalline on the right boards deflected in off the unsuspecting Brandon Stones in the 55th minute, the unfortunate Smital having been pulled after Gulliver’s first of the night.
There was still time for Lightning’s Barnes-Garner to miss what seemed like an open goal before the end, but little could detract from an impressive showing by the Knights as they continue to quickly adjust to life under Aldridge.