Leeds Knights build momentum for NIHL National play-offs with big win over Milton Keynes Lightning
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Second-placed Lightning may have made a small statement of their intent for the post-season by beating Leeds 7-5 on home ice but, a little less than 24 hours later, the Knights were making a big one of their own.
As on Saturday night in Milton Keynes, the Knights raced into a 3-0 first period lead. Unlike Saturday in Milton Keynes, this time they made it count.
Adam Barnes got the ball rolling when he broke the deadlock at 4.10 before Matt Haywood struck twice in just over two minutes - both on the power play - to make it 3-0 inside 11 minutes.
Jake Witkowski turned the crew further when he fired home at 15.38.
Hope briefly arrived for the depleted Lightning when Deivids Sarkanis pulled one back early in the second, the visitors then weathering the storm until Kieran Brown restored the four-goal lead at 34.04.
Cole Shudra increased the lead at 41.36 before three goals in just over two minutes - two of them just 14 seconds apart - completed another memorable night at the castle, Mac Howlett’s effort at 50.27 quickly followed by a second for Brown before Haywood rounded off the scoring with his hat-trick goal at 52.35.
On Saturday, Shudra (2) and Howlett scored inside the first 10 minutes at Milton Keynes but that lead had been eroded by the end of the second period by strikes from Tim Wallace, Rio Grinell-Parke and Sam Talbot.
The first 10 minutes of the third was basically a free-for-all, Talbot’s second quickly cancelled out by Zach Brooks before the hosts went 6-4 ahead through Bobby Chamberlain and Liam Stewart.
Brooks’s second made it a one-goal game again at 49.48 but Sarkanis’s reply just 18 seconds later was a step too far for the Knights to come back from.
Now preparations begin for a play-off quarter-final against Basingstoke Bison, a familiar opponent who the Knights dispatched twice last weekend.
"We wanted to gain momentum going into the play-offs and I thought the boys responded to that pretty well tonight,” said Aldridge afterwards, the Knights finishing the 2022-23 campaign 10 points clear at the top.
“The play-offs is different hockey and Basingstoke have been there a number of times so they know how to play play-off hockey and they will try to grind out a win, so we’ve just got to be on our game and play our way.
"It would mean everything to this group to get through to the playoff finals weekend. We’ve won the league, which is great, but that is already in the past. Now we move on to the next one and everyone here wants to give their best towards winning that play-off trophy.”