A comprehensive derby triumph on their own ice and a dramatic winner more than 150 miles away helped Peterborough Phantoms clinch a fourth place finish in the English Premier League yesterday (March 22).
The city side went into battle on the final night of the regular season knowing they had to see off fierce rivals Milton Keynes at Planet Ice while hoping outgoing champions Manchester Phoenix could sink Swindon up in the North-West.
Phantoms did their bit impressively as a goal-of-the-season contender from the mercurial Darius Pliskauskas helped them ease to a 4-1 success against the old enemy.
Their victory was in the bag from early in the third period, but it was a different story at the Alntrincham Ice Dome where Manchester produced a late turnaround thanks to a winner inside the final minute to see off Swindon 6-5.
Those results left Phantoms and the Wildcats deadlocked in the standings, but it is the city men who finish fourth due to conceding fewer goals in the two teams’ head-to-head series.
And that earned them the right to play the second leg of the play-off quarter-final this coming Sunday (March 29).
“Finishing fourth is a big achievement and something we should all be very proud about,” said Phantoms coach Slava Koulikov. “We might not have the biggest budget, but we have a lot of quality in our dressing room and so much determination.
“It was nice to get the job done with a very good performance to win a derby. It was important we responded after playing very poorly in Swindon the previous night.
“We knew we had to beat MK and hope that Manchester could get a result against Swindon. We did our bit and luckily they came up with a winner with 26 seconds to go in their game to help us.”
Phantoms were excellent against Milton Keynes last night. Skipper James Ferrara fired against the pipes and visiting netminder Jordan Hedley made a series of fine saves before the hosts took command with two goals in little more than two minutes.
Marc Levers turned in his third goal of the weekend on a powerplay before Pliskauskas forced the puck in from a tight angle.
Phantoms lost much of their momentum after an ugly incident which forced Mason Webster out of the contest. The young forward took a blow to the head when falling as a melee involving MK man Chris Wiggins broke out.
Referee Miller only saw fit to dish out 2+2 roughing penalties to both players, but the Phantoms faithful made their feelings clear as chants of ‘coward’ echoed around the arena every time Wiggins took to the ice from then on.
A Lightning reply from Michael Farn moments later only served to increase the bad feeling, but Phantoms restored the two-goal cushion early in the second session thanks to Luke Ferrara – a player back on EPL duty after helping Sheffield Steelers to the Elite League title the previous night.
Netminder Janis Auzins ensured it remained intact by keeping out Milan Kostourek’s penalty shot and Phantoms saved the best until last as Pliskauskas produced a glorious individual goal to seal victory in the final session.
The Lithuanian international looked like Lionel Messi on his ace as he darted past a series of opponents before rifling in a fierce shot.
It was a fitting final goal of a terrific regular season from Phantoms, but now the hunt for a trophy really begins.
8:32 Levers (PP) ass: Baranyk/Weldon
10:40 Pliskauskas ass: L. Ferrara/Koulikov
21:14 L. Ferrara ass: Koulikov/McGiffin
46:49 Pliskauskas unassisted
14:16 Farn ass: Poole/Bowers
Phantoms – Janis Auzins
Milton Keynes – Jordan Hedley