Phantoms topple the top dogs to reach the play-off final

Darius Pliskauskas scores the final goal in Phantoms' play-off semi-final win over Telford. Photo: Alan Storer.

Darius Pliskauskas scores the final goal in Phantoms' play-off semi-final win over Telford. Photo: Alan Storer.

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Money can buy you most things in life . . . but clearly not a place in the English Premier League Play-Offs Final.

As Peterborough Phantoms proved to the filthy rich double-winners of Telford Tigers this afternoon (April 4), it is passion, heart, desire and talent that secure such a slot.

The city team displayed all of the above in abundance on the Coventry Skydome ice to pull off a result that seemed to be rather popular in most corners of the EPL.

Chants of ‘Anyone but Telford’ regularly rang out around the arena as Phantoms claimed a notable victory for the shoestring budget over the chequebook.

And there was absolutely no fluke about it as they never trailed and led for the vast majority of a pulsating and occasionally bad-tempered contest.

Player-coach Slava Koulikov handed Phantoms the perfect start when firing them ahead inside the opening two minutes, but a controversial leveller pegged them back.

Max Birbraer’s powerplay rocket on 11:14 was nigh-on unstoppable, but the award of the numerical advantage for a charging call on Edgars Bebris was dubious and the fact the puck appeared to leave the zone seconds before he struck also angered the Phantoms faithful.

But their team responded superbly to hit the front again with two seconds to spare before the buzzer with a powerplay strike of their own as Luke Ferrara blasted in off the underside of the bar.

Bebris then received his marching orders little more than 90 seconds after the resumption after bloodying Telford man Nathan Salem with what was adjudged to have been a high stick, but it did little to affect Phantoms.

Milan Baranyk and Darius Pliskauskas both spurned glorious opportunities before the latter delivered a picture-book third just after the midway point.

A final-period onslaught from Telford was predictable and the concession of an early goal was certainly a blow to Phantoms.

Rick Plant was left unattended to skate in and rifle past Janis Auzins in the second minute of the session and that could have been the signal for lesser teams to crumble.

But Phantoms soaked up all the top dogs could throw at them as bodies were consistently put on the line in front of Auzins who delivered his trademark exceptional display.

Frequently he plucked fierce shots from the air and as Telford’s frustration grew, the killer blow arrived.

Pliskauskas was played in on the break by Ferrara, spun onto the puck, sat Murdy on his backside and slotted into the empty net to complete a memorable triumph.

Koulikov said: “We ground out a result against the best team in the league.

“Telford have so much power offensively and we had to try to capitalise on any mistakes they made.

“Janis was superb again and the guys in front of him all put their bodies on the line time and again.

“A victory like this is the result of seven months of hard work, but we know we must come back tomorrow and perform again.”

This was a day for the underdog but tomorrow Phantoms have to cope with the unusual tag of being favourites when they face Manchester in the final (4pm start).

It is fourth against sixth in the regular-season standings and this time they may well not have such widespread support as Phoenix player-coach Tony Hand would be a popular winner in the final match of his glorious on-ice career.

Koulikov, who did not stay on to watch Phoenix overcome Milton Keynes 7-4 in the later semi-final, added: “It is one game for the trophy and anything can happen on a day like that.

“The guys gave so much physically and mentally against Telford and we need to come back well rested for the final.

“I will tell them exactly the same thing that I’ve been telling them ahead of every game during the season . . . to give everything they have and leave nothing out there on the ice.

“We want to be the ones who decide our fate.”

MATCH DETAILS

Goals

Telford

11:14 Birbraer (PP) ass: Davies

41:56 Plant ass: Weaver/McKenzie

Phantoms

1:56 Koulikov ass: L. Ferrara

19:58 L. Ferrara (PP) ass: Bebris/Pliskauskas

30:42 Pliskauskas unassisted

57:09 Pliskauskas ass: L. Ferrara/J. Ferrara

Men of the match

Telford – Sam Zajac

Phantoms – Janis Auzins