The regular English Premier League season was never going to end quietly for Peterborough Phantoms – the fixture-planners saw to that.
A final outing against Sheffield Steeldogs last night (March 20) was guaranteed to carry an edge long before it became apparent that the teams sitting second and seventh in the standings would meet again next weekend in the play-off quarter-finals.
It did pass off relatively peacefully in all truth by the standards of clashes against the Steeldogs – aside from bit of pushing and shoving at the end of the first period, a flare-up by the boards during the third period, and a melee in front of the Phantoms net with just three seconds remaining – and it also provided plenty of drama as the city team survived a late onslaught to grab a 3-2 victory after earlier leading 3-0.
It meant they completed a clean sweep over the visitors this term and also ensured they ended the regular campaign with a run of six matches without defeat in regulation time.
Coach Slava Koulikov said: “We made it pretty hard for ourselves in the final period by conceding twice, but we also showed plenty of character for the second successive night.
“We’ve been down a few guys throughout the weekend, but we battled hard for three points to make sure we finished the regular season in a good way.
“We had a couple of goals washed out that would have made a difference to the game, but that’s just the way it goes. We also had one given against us the previous night in Guildford that didn’t cross the line, but we don’t play in the NHL and KHL where every incident gets reviewed and changed if necessary.”
Phantoms were without the rested Janis Auzins and Cam McGiffin, the injured Scott Robson, and the new father Marc Levers.
Robson suffered a facial injury that required hospital treatment after being boarded early on in Guildford the previous night, while Levers was given the weekend off to ensure he was present for the birth of his son late on Saturday (March 19).
All are expected to return for the play-offs, but others impressed in their absences last night – not least netminder Adam Long and teenage defenceman Callum Medcalf.
Phantoms slowly built a match-winning advantage on a goal-per-period basis as Martins Susters fired the only blow of the first 20 minutes, Darius Pliskauskas struck on a five-on-three powerplay during the second session and captain James Ferrara sped in short-handed less than 30 seconds into the finale.
But the game was far from over as Sheffield responded powerfully to dominate the remainder of the last stanza.
Long saw his hopes of a shut-out ended with a quarter-of-an-hour to go by Ash Calvert and the Steeldogs took another chunk out of their arrears when Lubomir Korhon pounced after Long had spilled an Arnoladas Bosas blast.
That set up a grandstand finish in which neither side looked like a team merely ticking boxes by completing their schedules. Phantoms put everyone and everything on the line to keep at bay a Sheffield side who threw everything at them.
The hosts did think they had clinched victory with 36 seconds remaining when Craig Scott fired into an empty net after Steeldogs netminder Dalibor Sedlar had been pulled, but an offside call cut short his celebrations as they were forced to focus on preserving their slender advantage again.
And they managed to do that during a frantic final half-a-minute which erupted with a pile up of bodies in front of the Phantoms net.
It prompted a delay of several minutes with only three seconds left on the clock as referee Paul Brooks dished out a stack of penalties – the majority of them being collected by Will Weldon for various roughing and incitement offences – before Phantoms could see out their 35th victory in a 54-game season.
They finish in second place in possession of the second-highest goal tally and the second-tightest defence, but with one thing on their minds – retaining their play-off crown.
15:25 Suusters ass: Weldon/J. Ferrara
33:38 Pliskauskas (PP) ass: Bebris
40:22 J. Ferrara (SH) unassisted
45:09 Calvert (PP) ass: Wood/Shudra
54:22 Korhon ass: Bosas/Bell
Phantoms – Darius Pliskauskas
Sheffield – Dalibor Sedlar