It is advantage Peterborough Phantoms in the race for a place in the English Premier League play-off finals.
The city team collected a 4-3 success in the first leg of their quarter-final showdown at Swindon Wildcats last night (March 28).
Phantoms forged their way into a four-goal advantage during the second period at The Link Centre before the hosts clawed their way back into contention to set up a mouth-watering second leg at Planet Ice tonight (March 29, 5.30pm).
“I’m pleased to come away from Swindon with a small lead,” said Phantoms chief Slava Koulikov. “To bring an advantage back into our building and in front of our fans was the aim.
“But the job is far from finished and last night has gone now. We have another hockey game to win tonight and as far as I am concerned we start at 0-0 again.”
Phantoms made the perfect start in Swindon as Milan Baranyk struck after just 44 seconds. The Czech forward took advantage of a powerplay awarded before the puck had even been dropped for the first time as Wildcats nuisance Tomas Kana was called for tripping Edgars Bebris.
Only a series of fine saves from Swindon netminder Stevie Lyle prevented Phantoms from increasing their lead before the hosts saw a leveller washed out for high sticks as Loris Taylor batted the puck into the net from above his head.
But Phantoms did strike again in the opening session as Donata Kumeliauskas darted around a dozing defenceman and put away the rebound after his initial effort had been kept out by Lyle.
They received a blow early in the second period when Will Weldon was thrown out for an accidental high-sticking offence, but the well-drilled Phantoms side killed the five-minute Swindon powerplay that followed.
And they tightened the noose around the necks of Swindon with two further goals around the mid-point of the contest.
Man-of-the-match Tom Norton found himself in an unusually advanced position to steer a shot through the legs of Lyle before Darius Pliskauskas pounced to convert a Luke Ferrara pass from the boards.
And Phantoms could even have had more goals as a pair of two-on-one breaks led to a Bebris shot being blocked and a Koulikov effort being well-saved by Lyle.
But Swindon gained a foothold in the game when finally finding the net through Jan Kostal with just under three minutes of the second session remaining.
It was a goal which gave the home side and their fans hope. They were a different animal in the final period as they penned Phantoms back and clawed their way right back into contention.
Swindon found the net twice in the space of 33 seconds through Jonas Hoog’s rebound and a Kana rocket, but Phantoms still have the edge.
Koulikov added: “The aim was to make it a tight game but scoring very early on gave us momentum.
“We were able to build up a lead but we always knew we would come under pressure after having to kill a lot of penalties.
“Swindon came back very strongly in the final period and it is set up to be another good game in our rink.”
Wildcats coach Ryan Aldridge reckons his team’s late rally has put the pressure on Phantoms although he has fitness concerns over his star British forward Aaron Nell who didn’t re-appear after the opening period last night.
Aldridge said: “I asked for a reaction going into the third period and I thought the boys showed up again.
“Those three goals we managed to claw back put the pressure back on Peterborough now going into their own building because at 4-0 it was a write-off. We now have to go there with a sensible game-plan.”
37:05 Kostal ass: Kana/Harding
47:10 Hoog ass: Whitfield/Malasinski
47:43 Kana ass: Kostal/Buglass
0:44 Baranyk (PP) ass: Bebris/Levers
17:29 Kumeliauskas ass: Norton
29:33 Norton ass: R. Ferrara/Pliskauskas
33:44 Pliskauskas ass: L. Ferrara/Koulikov