Peterborough Phantoms claimed the prized scalp of English Premier League champions elect Telford for the second time in a month last night (January 31).
A rip-roaring start followed by two periods of dogged resistance was the recipe for a memorable 3-2 success at Planet Ice which came complete with the most nerve-jangling of finishes.
Phantoms might have been on the receiving end of a staggering 52-21 shot count, but they emerged in front on the only scoreline that matters.
And even though they saw a three-goal cushion reduced to just one during a grandstand finish, they stood strong to send their fans into ecstasy.
And in netminder Janis Auzins they possess quite possibly the most valuable player in the entire EPL. The Latvian last line of defence was again immense to consistently thwart the table-toppers and provide the foundations for another famous success.
“I’m not going to say it is our best result of the season so far, but it is certainly a very important one,” said Koulikov.
“We have now beaten a very, very good hockey team home and away with important players being out in both games. I have to give huge credit to all the guys for making those victories happen.
“We knew we had to match Telford’s intensity in the early stages and getting into a three-goal lead was ideal.
“From then on we were able to do what we had to do to win the game although there were a few nerves towards the end.
“Telford had a lot of shots but we managed to control the game in a way that they didn’t have too many clear chances.
“Their first goal gave them a bit of momentum and the second one created a really tense finish, but Janis was immense again and all the guys in front of him stood tall to get the two points.”
Milan Baranyk accepted a glorious chance to fire Phantoms ahead after being fed by Edgars Bebris and two powerplay goals little more than a minute apart put them in control and left the big-spending champions elect flustered.
Baranyk turned provider to lay on the second for Donatas Kumeliauskas whose mis-hit shot fooled Tigers netminder Thomas Murdy – a man who spent the first half of last season in the Phantoms ranks.
And he was beaten again just 63 seconds later as an exquisite Kumeliauskas pass was complemented by a slick Luke Ferrara finish.
Telford’s response was to attempt to ruffle the feathers of the ice-cool Auzins by piling into his crease at every opportunity. They met some strong resistance from Phantoms and several bouts of handbags ensued before referee Jonny Liptrott exercised his authority and called penalties.
It was all Telford in the second session but they were unable to turn possession of the puck into goals. There were few clear opportunities at either end in all truth, but the visitors were much more potent in the final stanza.
A 25-5 shot count emphasises their dominance in the last 20 minutes and it was almost inevitable they would eventually end Auzins’ hopes of a shut-out.
That happened with just under six minutes remaining through veteran Rick Plant and Phantoms were then guilty of making life hard for themselves.
Scott Robson and Will Weldon both picked up delay-of-the-game penalties which slightly overlapped to hand the visitors almost four minutes of powerplay.
And with 20 seconds of their numerical advantage remaining – and 75 seconds left on the clock – Telford struck again as Scott McKenzie converted a rebound at full-stretch after Murdy had been pulled.
But the table-toppers couldn’t find another breakthrough in an action-packed final minute as they suffered just a fifth defeat in regulation time all season – two of which have been at the hands of Phantoms and the other three against Swindon.
But Koulikov warned last night’s super result must be followed up when Phantoms travel to basement side Bracknell tonight (February 1, 6pm).
Phantoms have been successful in their last five visits to The Hive over the last two seasons and need two more points to boost their hopes of a top-four finish.
Koulikov added: “Beating Telford will count for nothing if we can’t follow it up with two more points in Bracknell.
“We know they will battle hard and they are not going to roll over and give us the game just because they are bottom of the table.”
4:10 Baranyk ass: Bebris/Pick
10:31 Kumeliauskas (PP) ass: Baranyk/L. Ferrara
11:34 L. Ferrara ass: Kumeliauskas/Koulikov
54:21 Plant ass: Zajac/Ondrej
58:45 McKenzie (PP) ass: Szabo/Plant
Phantoms – Janis Auzins
Telford – Jason Silverthorn