There is a sporting theory that big players will come up trumps in big games – and that was certainly the case for Peterborough Phantoms last night (December 20).
Star imports Janis Auzins and Darius Pliskauskas delivered decisive contributions as the city club’s final home English Premier League game of 2014 ended in both high drama and with an important victory.
Phantoms were taken to the wire by reigning champions Manchester before edging to a 2-1 success after penalty shots.
Brilliant netminder Auzins kept out all three Phoenix shoot-out attempts from Adam Walker, Frantisek Bakrlik and Michael Psurny which meant Pliskauskas’ successful conversion settled the issue in their favour.
Phantoms had earlier trailed for much of the contest before finally coming up with a leveller on a five-on-three powerplay in the third period, but boss Slava Koulikov stressed their victory was deserved.
“I always believed we would win the game,” said Koulikov. “Even when we were behind, we were performing to such a level that a goal had to come.
“In the end we had to wait until penalties to get the result, but our big players showed what they are about. Janis kept the penalties out and Darius scored the goal that mattered.
“But I must give credit to all my guys for working so hard for so long. It was a magnificent team performance and a nice way to end the year in our last home league game.”
Auzins didn’t just excel when the game was settled on penalties. He made fine saves throughout the contest.
He had already pulled off two fine one-on-one stops by the time Manchester hit the front through a Bakrlik breakaway goal at 13:05.
Phantoms had plenty of puck around the Phoenix net as they searched for a leveller but their end product lacked quality while a failure to station a man in front of visiting netminder Declan Ryan often enough limited their threat.
They eventually benefitted from their opponents’ ill-discipline to level with two Manchester men in the penalty box. Edgars Bebris succeeded in bundling the puck home at 46:43 in the mother of all goalmouth scrambles with bodies and sticks flying in all directions.
Neither side was able to take advantage of late powerplays to settle the issue in regulation time and there was also no breakthrough in sudden-death overtime – largely thanks to two super Auzins saves.
But the big Latvian saved his best until last to secure two crucial points in the chase for second place.
Two of the three teams eager to snatch that position from Phantoms’ grasp – Basingstoke and Guildford – both won last night before facing each other tonight (December 21).
Phantoms are in action themselves tonight when sending an all-British team to Billingham for their latest English Challenge Cup clash. It is the second of six meaningless North Group clashes against sides from the lower-level English National League.
46:43 Bebris (PP) ass: Baranyk/J. Ferrara
13:05 Bakrlik ass: Chamberlain
Phantoms – Milan Baranyk
Manchester – Declan Ryan