Peterborough Phantoms were beaten at their own game last night (February 22).
Player-coach Slava Koulikov saw his side fall to a third successive English Premier League defeat as Swindon Wildcats claimed a 5-2 success at Planet Ice.
It meant the Wiltshire side also seized fourth place from Phantoms in the standings although the two teams remain likely play-off opponents at the end of next month.
And it certainly wasn’t a fairytale return for Phantoms’ import star Darius Pliskauskas who returned to the ice after being sidelined for more than a month with a fractured elbow.
Koulikov said: “Don’t get me wrong, this is a disappointing result and I’m not going to pretend it is anything different.
“Swindon played a very solid, defensive game of hockey which is something we have often done. You could say they beat us in the way that we have beaten a lot of teams.
“They made us work hard and caused us a lot of problems in the neutral zone where we turned over the puck on far too many occasions.
“No coach is going to be happy about three defeats in a row, but two of them have been one-goal games in the third period.
“Maybe our mentality wasn’t quite right last night. We can’t just expect to roll teams over because we have guys like Darius back as they are not in game-shape after being out for so long.”
The tone was set for a scrappy contest by three goals in the opening two minutes.
Milan Baranyk buried the opener on 23 seconds after a Tom Norton pass had squirmed through the visiting defence, but the lead was short-lived.
Just 31 seconds to be precise as Adam Harding skated in to rifle past Janis Auzins and the puck was in the Latvian’s net again at 1:59 when Jonas Hoog punished an error from Edgars Bebris.
A frantic opening session continued with a Phantoms leveller as Will Weldon pounced at 8:15 after a scramble in front of the Swindon net, but they were soon back behind again as Jan Kostal fired past an unsighted Auzins following a face-off at 10:44.
But the goals then dried up with more than 40 minutes of largely forgettable action passing by before Wildcats import Kenton Smith struck at 52:18.
Admittedly there was the odd piece of drama at both ends during the barren spell with Auzins saving an Aaron Nell penalty shot and Koulikov seeing a leveller scrubbed off late in the second session due to a player being in the crease and the Wildcats net being off its moorings.
In the end Phantoms’ fate was sealed by a short-handed empty net strike from Nell seconds after Auzins had been pulled during a late powerplay at 57:53.
“I wouldn’t say Swindon out-played us, but they certainly out-smarted us in some situations,” continued Koulikov.
“We conceded some very weak goals and were left chasing the game. We had to pull Janis to try to get ourselves a goal late on, but they scored into the empty net to finish it off.
“I have a full confidence in my guys that we will be back picking up some results in the next few games.”
Mason Webster and Martins Susters also dressed for Phantoms last night after injury lay-offs, but received no time on the ice. They are ‘still not 100 per cent’ in the words of Koulikov.
Defenceman James Hutchinson is now the only injury concern and he is expected to take part in training on Friday night (February 27) ahead of a tough weekend.
Phantoms entertain champions elect Telford on Saturday (February 28) before travelling to Manchester, who could catch them for fifth place, the following night.
0:23 Baranyk ass: Norton/McGiffin
8:15 Weldon ass: Bebris/Robson
0:54 Harding unassisted
1:59 Hoog ass: Kana/Harding
10:44 Kostal ass: Nell
52:18 Smith ass: Hoog
57:53 Nell (SH/EN) ass: Hoog
Phantoms – Will Weldon
Swindon – Stephen Whitfield