TELFORD TIGERS 2 – 4 PETERBOROUGH PHANTOMS
MILTON KEYNES LIGHTNING 4 – 7 MANCHESTER PHOENIX
Saturday night saw the Manchester Phoenix overcoming the Milton Keynes Lightning 7-4 in what was a very scrappy game at the Coventry Skydome, to claim the win in the second semi final of the day. Shaun Thompson and Robin Kovar were the two goal heroes for the Phoenix as both scored a brace each in the win, while former Manchester man Curtis Huppe scored twice himself to see him help his MK side staying in contention till the end.
Manchester came out strong and saw Shaun Thompson lay a big mid ice hit on an opponent within the opening minute of play that saw the Lightning player heading straight to the bench over the hit he received. That aggressive play brought Phoenix a goal through Shaun Thompson as the forward fired high on net and saw the puck go through traffic and past Stephen Wall for a 1-0 lead at 2.47 with James Archer and Robin Kovar assisting.
Milton Keynes was being out played in the opening ten minutes of the contest but weren`t out the game either. The Lightning then equalised at 8.49 when Curtis Huppe fired on Steve Fone and the Manchester netminder seemed to glove it but could only watch as it escaped and when into the back of the net for 1-1 with Ross Bowers credited with assist.
Shaun Thompson netted his and Phoenix second goal of the game to put Manchester back in front at 2-1 with James Archer and Robin Kovar once again combining for the goal at 9.47. Once again though the Lightning struck back to make it 2-2, with Lewis Hook beating the goalie to see this game head into the first break all square.
The Start of the second period saw the Phoenix going back ahead for a third time in this semi final clash with Robin Kovar turning goal scorer at 21.02 with the Czech man beating Stephen Wall for a 3-2 score. It came as no surprise to anyone over five minutes later, when MK scored courtesy of Curtis Huppe, with the defence’s of both teams lacking massively in that department in this game.
Manchester then scored what proved to be crucial two late goals in the second period, to give them some breathing space from their opponents and saw them now having to just avoid a bad period and they were through to the final. Robin Kovar found the back of the net for goal number four at 36.59 and then Adam Walker finished off a nice move to see the Phoenix 5-3 up entering the final twenty minutes.
Match official in this contest was Stefan Hogarth and came close at times to losing control at points as well. Petr Horava was lucky to escape a penalty for a clear check from behind on Shaun Thompson as the Phoenix man was on his knees trying to get up when Horava hit him in the back and was sent crashing face first into the boards and Thompson’s team mates had a heat little chat with the MK man.
The game was like a ‘War of Attrition’ for the most parts, with neither side fully stamping their authority on the game and had the sides enjoying passages of play infrequency through-out.
Manchester knew that their rival would come at them hard and try to score an early goal to boost their confidence in the period, but the Phoenix just had the psychological edge with the two goals lead in the game for the losing finalists from last year. MK did pull a goal back at 46.34 after some sloppy work by the Manchester side failed to close down Chris Wiggins and the enforcer for the Lightning gave his side a life line to trail by one.
Both sides seemed to cancel each the other out and had no team fully grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and onto victory. Manchester sealed their place in the final with two empty net goals in the final minute of the game, as firstly Frankie Bakrlik scored and then James Archer followed suit to see the Phoenix reach their fourth successive playoff final in a row to set up a grand final against the Peterborough Phantoms.