Peterborough Phantoms might just be peaking at the perfect time.
A 7-2 success against lowly Hull at Planet Ice last night (February 7) proved to be a delight for title-chasers but a disappointment for shock-hunters.
Phantoms had triumphed on the road at table-topping Basingstoke 24 hours earlier while Hull had collapsed to a nine-goal drubbing on their own ice.
What could possibly go wrong? Absolutely nothing as any thoughts of an ice hockey equivalent of a coupon-buster were dismissed within minutes of the puck being dropped.
And there was the added bonus of Phantoms’ sixth win in seven league games – a run which has yielded 13 of a possible 14 points – clinching a return to second spot in the standings.
It’s a purple patch which has again marked Slava Koulikov’s men down as genuine championship challengers and made the Phantoms coach an extremely happy man ahead of the regular season run-in.
“It was very important to complete the four-point weekend against Hull after winning in Basingstoke on Saturday,” said Koulikov.
“We enjoyed the perfect start by forging ahead early on and the result was never really in doubt.
“We scored plenty of goals and could have had more, but we did more than enough to pick up the two points.
“We are in a good place in the table right now and every coach is going to be happy when his team is winning games regularly.
“We’ve done that for the past few weekends now and we have to make sure it continues.”
Phantoms managed almost twice the number of shots on goal of their visitors and a second double-figures scoreline of the season against them wouldn’t have been an unfair reflection of their dominance.
They were two goals to the good inside the opening four minutes thanks to a sharp Will Weldon finish and an alert James White follow-up after Darius Pliskauskas had fired against a post.
Local lad White found the net for the second successive home game to earn the man-of-the-match accolade after impressing on a line with Pliskauskas and Ales Padelek as Phantoms rested Lloyd Gibson due to back trouble.
Craig Scott was another man to shine and he forced in a rebound to extend an advantage which was briefly pegged back when Sam Towner claimed the Pirates’ first goal at Planet Ice in the third visit of their debut season.
Phantoms only had a Milan Baranyk strike to show for their total domination of the second period, but a three-goal cushion was enough to persuade the visitors the game was over.
That is the only conclusion which could possibly be drawn from their decision to replace impressive import netminder Marty Raitums with teenager Ashley Smith for the final session.
Smith, who conceded seven times in the opening period of Phantoms’ 11-0 drubbing of Hull back in November, was beaten three times in the last 20 minutes of this clash.
Padelek slotted away the first of those goals, Pliskauskas smashed in the second and Baranyk completed the scoring.
Hull did have the consolation of a second goal of their own late on as player-coach Dominic Osman made a five-on-three situation pay, but his team were one again emphatically beaten on Bretton ice.
In fact Phantoms could be left to regret the three points they have surrendered in their three visits to Humberside as the title race looks set to go down to the wire.
They remain four points behind pacesetters Basingstoke – their victims 24 hours earlier – but do possess a game in hand.
Phantoms now face a run of three successive fixtures against bottom-four teams. It starts with a trip to basement side Bracknell on Saturday (February 13), continues with a home date against Sheffield the following night and concludes with a midweek outing against Manchester at Planet Ice on February 17.
2:11 Weldon ass: Bebris/J. Ferrara
3:55 White ass: Pliskauskas/Padelek
14:55 Scott ass: Baranyk/Levers
31:19 Baranyk ass: Scott/Norton
41:12 Padelek ass: R. Ferrara
43:22 Pliskauskas ass: Bebris/Padelek
54:41 Baranyk ass: McGiffin/Padelek
16:58 Towner ass: Laine/Salem
58:33 Osman (PP) ass: Tait/Laine
Phantoms – James White
Hull – Sam Towner