Leeds Knights edge closer to title by increasing gap on Milton Keynes Lightning

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AS weekends go, the only downside for Leeds Knights was that they didn’t take all six of the points on offer across the three nights they were in action.

But that would be nit-picking, given they went to bed on Sunday night sleeping soundly in the knowledge that they were two points better off over nearest rivals Milton Keynes Lightning than when they started their hectic period of nine games in 17 days against Hull Seahawks at home on Friday night.

Next up for the Knights is the small business of a National Cup Final first leg against Peterborough Phantoms on Friday night.

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That encounter won’t be settled until the second leg concludes in Leeds on Friday, March 24 in Leeds but, by then, the Knights could already have celebrated winning the NIHL National regular season crown.

ON THE MARK: Leeds Knights' captain Kieran Brown made it 50 league goals for the season in the 4-2 win at Bees IHC. Picture courtesy of Oliver Portamento.ON THE MARK: Leeds Knights' captain Kieran Brown made it 50 league goals for the season in the 4-2 win at Bees IHC. Picture courtesy of Oliver Portamento.
ON THE MARK: Leeds Knights' captain Kieran Brown made it 50 league goals for the season in the 4-2 win at Bees IHC. Picture courtesy of Oliver Portamento.

That would depend on them beating Swindon Wildcats and Telford Tigers, while other results going their way. It’s a long shot, but that’s exactly what happened in the past 24 hours.

The biggest helping hand came from 30-odd miles down the road in South Yorkshire, when Sheffield Steeldogs hammered Milton Keynes 7-2, the Knights doing what they needed to do with a 4-2 win on the road at bottom club Bees IHC.

The Knights had gone into that game looking to bounce back from a 2-1 defeat after a shootout in Swindon the previous evening.

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But while they would have been disappointed just to take the one point from their last visit of the regular season to the Link Centre, their mood will have been changed for the better when news filtered through that the Lightning had been forced to settle for the same return when they lost out 5-4 in overtime at home to Peterborough Phantoms.

Picture courtesy of Oliver PortamentoPicture courtesy of Oliver Portamento
Picture courtesy of Oliver Portamento

It means that, with six games remaining, the Knights find themselves eight points ahead of Milton Keynes.

The much-anticipated double-header weekend between the two - which many hoped would determine the destination of the title - now looks like being a dead rubber, barring a cataclysmic loss of form by the Knights.

On Sunday, in Slough, the Knights got off to a blistering start when they went 3-0 ahead with just over five minutes gone through strikes from Kieran Brown – his 50th of the season – defenceman Thomas Barry and Mac Howlett, looking for his third straight hat-trick.

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But Howlett was to be denied that honour as the Knights were made to sweat for their 41st league win of the campaign, Dominik Gabaj quickly getting the hosts back in the game at 7.49.

That was how it stayed until the third period when the Bees made it a one-goal game through a power play strike from Will Stead at 44.16.

In an almost carbon copy of Friday’s nervy 6-4 win over Hull, the Knights were hanging on to a slender lead before eventually closing out the game through a late Matt Haywood empty-netter.

That goal helped make it a night for landmarks for the nights, the assist awarded to Cole Shudra bringing up his 100th point for the season.

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On Saturday, in Swindon, the Knights went into the third period 1-0 ahead through a power play marker from Cole Shudra at 23.57.

But after a 49th-minute equaliser from Russ Cowley, they were forced into overtime and then a shootout to earn the extra point on offer.

But that went the way of the hosts after attempts from Colby Tower and Balint Pakozdi beat Sam Gospel while the Knights couldn’t get the better of Wildcats’ netminder Renny Marr.