The real Peterborough Phantoms were back last night (March 3) . . . 24 hours too late.
The city team restored a slice of pride by beating Guildford Flames in the second leg of the English Premier League final at Planet Ice.
A 5-3 triumph on home ice meant a pleasing response could be pulled from the wreckage of a conclusive 12-6 aggregate defeat with the damage being done by a 9-1 capitulation in the opening leg the previous evening.
Turning around the tie was ‘Mission Impossible’ in the words of coach Slava Koulikov, but claiming a victory so soon after such a galling loss was testament to the character of his players.
And it was followed by a public apology from the Phantoms chief.
“It was essential to put in the right performance and win the second leg on our ice – and we managed to do those things,” said Koulikov.
“Guildford completely outplayed us in the first leg and they deserved to win the cup. What happened down there was a huge disappointment for everyone connected to the club.
“I want to apologise to the fans on behalf of myself and the team for that result and performance in Guildford.
“I also want to thank them for turning up to support us at home. I really admire that after what happened the night before.
“The memory of the first leg will stay in the hearts and heads of the guys for a while. They worked so hard to earn the opportunity to win the cup only for it to slip away with such a bad performance.
“I have to give credit to them for responding to such a big disappointment so quickly. That is the sign of a good team and it shows we would have had a real chance of lifting the cup if we had managed to bring the tie back home with a good performance in the first leg.
“But I am still proud of reaching the final in a season where there is no doubt in my mind that we have over-achieved.”
Phantoms could have been forgiven for fearing the worst again in the second leg when Marcus Kristoffersson fired Guildford ahead just short of seven-and-a-half minutes into proceedings. The Swedish ace had also opened the scoring the previous night.
But there was no avalanche of Flames goals to follow in the return clash as Phantoms levelled just over six minutes later.
Ales Padelek steered in a loose puck on a delayed penalty after Lloyd Gibson had been poleaxed in front of the net.
And the hosts hit the front on the night when Scott Robson ghosted in at the back door to convert a fine Craig Scott pass on a second period powerplay.
The advantage was quickly wiped out when Janis Ozolins burst into the zone and laid a leveller on a plate for fellow import Jens Eriksson.
That effort arrived as Phantoms attempted to kill the second of two overlapping penalties awarded against them by referee Stefan Hogarth – still an unpopular figure in these parts after helping Telford to a league victory at Planet Ice with a catalogue of dreadful decisions 11 days earlier.
The middle session came to an explosive conclusion with a mini-melee followed by a quickfire pair of goals.
Tempers frayed after Kristofersson needlessly interfered with Janis Auzins for the second time in the period, and Phantoms were quick to stand up for their netminder.
They also hit the front again when Marc Levers buried a Milan Baranyk pass, but the advantage again proved to be short-lived. Only 18 seconds later Guildford were level again on the night as Eriksson raced in following a turnover and slammed the puck past Auzins.
But Phantoms ensured they had the consolation of success on home ice courtesy of two goals in as many minutes during the final stanza.
Levers’ classy reverse-stick finish on a powerplay put them back ahead and Will Weldon soon increased the cushion when swiping in a mid-air rebound after a Darius Pliskauskas shot had been saved.
Phantoms have only one day of rest before returning to the EPL grind with a couple of crucial weekend clashes as they go head-to-head with the Flames in the race for second place.
Koulikov’s men travel to Sheffield tomorrow (March 5) before hosting Swindon at Planet Ice on Sunday (March 6).
“Every point counts and every game is vital,” continued Koulikov. “We have seven cup finals ahead in the league and hopefully they won’t turn out like the first leg of the actual cup final!”
13:40 Padelek (DP) ass: Gibson/J. Ferrara
33:52 Robson (PP) ass: Scott/Levers
39:36 Levers ass: Baranyk
48:18 Levers (PP) ass: Robson/Baranyk
49:45 Weldon ass: Pliskauskas/Norton
7:26 Kristoffersson ass: Eriksson/Phillips
37:49 Eriksson (PP) ass: Ozolins/Duggan
39:55 Eriksson unassisted
Phantoms – Scott Robson
Guildford – Danny Meyers