Peterborough Phantoms could hardly have started their challenge for NIHL Division One South play-offs glory any more impressively.
The city side reeled off high-scoring successes on consecutive nights to blow away lowly Milton Keynes Thunder at the quarter-final stage.
They triumphed 12-1 at Planet Ice yesterday (March 24) to seal a 19-4 aggregate verdict following their 7-3 victory in the first leg the previous evening.
Regular season runners-up Phantoms were ruthless and relentless as they put their second-bottom rivals to the sword to set up a semi-final showdown against Basingstoke this weekend.
It means a mouth-watering repeat of the NIHL South Cup final, in which Phantoms pipped the Bison 6-5 on aggregate earlier this month to complete an honours double following their December success in the NIHL Autumn Cup, lies ahead.
“We were pretty sharp offensively over the two legs,” said head coach Slava Koulikov. “We moved the puck well, we produced a lot of good combination play and we scored plenty of goals.
“It was important to have the right mindset over this weekend. We couldn’t afford to play at 50 per cent just because we were facing a team who finished seventh.
“We can now take this momentum and intensity into a really tough challenge next weekend against Basingstoke.
“We’ve already played them eight times this season and I’ll be more than happy with a repeat of the cup final.
“It’s tough to predict what will happen in play-off hockey, but I can guarantee two good teams will be laying it all on the line as they try to reach the final.”
Phantoms’ two imports led the way in the scoring stakes last night. Big Petr Stepanek struck four times while his fellow Czech star Ales Padelek hit a fourth hat-trick of a prolific month.
Martins Susters and captain James Ferrara also bagged two goals apiece with Glenn Billing the other man to find the net.
Half-a-dozen of the Phantoms efforts arrived in powerplay situations while Stepanek twice struck when they were short-handed.
Phantoms’ haul would have been even greater had Stepanek not pinged he pipes on two occasions and Thunder netminder Jordan Lawday not pulled off a string of impressive saves.
The visitors’ only reply arrived early in the final period from one-time Phantoms man Jamie Line. Thunder had seen Hallden Barnes-Garner thrown out for jumping Ferrara towards the end of the opening session.
Phantoms’ 19-4 verdict was only the third biggest aggregate margin recording during quarter-finals weekend. Elsewhere in the South, league champions Swindon thumped rock-bottom Invicta 24-5 while NIHL Division One North winners Hull bashed Sutton Sting 29-4 in the opening round of the play-offs in that section.
Such scorelines are highly unlikely to be repeated next weekend at the semi-final stage.
Phantoms travel to Basingstoke on Saturday (March 30, 6.30pm) for the opening leg before hosting the Bison at Planet Ice on Sunday (March 31, 5.30pm).
Swindon take on Bracknell, who finished the regular season in fourth spot, in the other last-four clash.
NIHL Division One South play-offs, quarter-finals aggregate scores: Swindon 24, Invicta 5; Phantoms 19, Milton Keynes Thunder 4;
Basingstoke 10, Streatham 4; Bracknell 6, Raiders 3.
10.08 Stepanek (PP) ass: White/Robson
13.20 Stepanek ass: Weldon/R. Ferrara
14.06 Padelek ass: Long/Billing
15.20 Susters (PP) ass: Stepanek
21.39 Billing (PP) ass: Norton/Padelek
30.50 J. Ferrara (PP) ass: Weldon/Padelek
32.56 Stepenak (SH) ass: Susters
35.42 Padelek ass: J. Ferrara/Billing
42.12 Susters ass: Norton/Long
46.42 Padelek (PP) ass: Billing/J. Ferrara
52.34 Stepenak (SH) ass: Susters
57.13 J. Ferrara (PP): ass: Padelek/Billing
MILTON KEYNES THUNDER
40.45 Line ass: Edwards
PHANTOMS - Petr Stepanek
MILTON KEYNES THUNDER - Alex Whyte