All the pressure should be on Lightning to strike says Phantoms coach Koulikov

Phantoms celebrate during their EPL Cup semi-final victory over Telford. Picture: Tom Scott
Phantoms celebrate during their EPL Cup semi-final victory over Telford. Picture: Tom Scott
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Phantoms coach Slava Koulikov has heaped all of the pressure onto fierce rivals Milton Keynes ahead of a mouth-watering English Premier League Cup final.

The city team host Lightning in the first leg of the trophy showdown at Planet Ice this Sunday (5.30pm) ahead of a return clash in Buckinghamshire on March 18 – two contests that Koulikov predicts will be ‘special occasions’.

They are clashes of the second and third-placed teams in the second tier of the sport, although Phantoms are 11 points behind a set of opponents blessed with considerably deeper resources.

“If MK show up on the night, it shouldn’t even be a contest,” said Koulikov. “They have lots of big-name players and are loaded with skill and talent.

“They are second in the table and looked like they were going to challenge for the title for the most of the season.

“MK have to be big favourites. We have big respect for them, but we’re certainly not afraid of them.

“We will focus on sticking to our gameplan and working as a team, as we always do. That is the way we have enjoyed success in recent years.”

Phantoms will be desperate to avoid the nightmare they endured in the final of the same competition last season.

They went down 12-6 to Guildford on aggregate after being thumped 9-1 in the opening leg in Surrey.

It is suspected that result was one of the reasons behind a change of format for the current campaign with the semi-finals and final now decided on match points rather than aggregate scorelines.

“The format makes it a mini-series,” continued Koulikov.

“I treat it as three games – the first leg, the second leg and then a mini-game at the end if overtime and penalties are required.

“Unlike last season, every game starts with a clean slate. Saying that, I certainly don’t want to lose the first leg 9-1 again!

“We want to play well, try to win the game at home and put two points on the board. Our record on our own ice is strong and the fans are a big part of that.

“They are always behind us regardless of whether we are winning, trailing, playing well or not quite firing.

“I’m told a lot of tickets have already been sold in advance and I’m sure we will have great support in what will hopefully be a full building.

“We’ve worked really hard to get into this position and we need to ensure we leave everything out there on the ice.”

Phantoms must first negotiate a league trip to Guildford Flames this Saturday (march 11), 6pm.

Koulikov says his side will ‘play to win’ in Surrey. He has no plans to rest players.

Lithuanian international Darius Pliskauskas missed the 4-1 triumph away in Hull last weekend, but is expected to return.