Peterborough Phantoms got the result they needed, but not the scoreline they wanted as their title hopes were all but ended last night (March 10).
The city team beat Streatham 6-4 at Planet Ice in their final outing of the regular NIHL Division One South season – a success salvaged by late efforts from Will Weldon and Owen Griffiths after an earlier four-goal cushion had been wiped out.
Rarely can an eighth consecutive victory have felt so insufficient, but the fact Phantoms managed to grind out a victory at all should be saluted given illness has swept through their camp in the past week.
However, they have been left requiring a sporting miracle to lift the title after seeing their advantage in terms of goal difference wiped out as championship rivals Basingstoke blitzed Invicta 10-1 last night.
Bison now have the seemingly simple task of triumphing at bottom side Cardiff Fire – a team without a win all season and who conceded an average of almost seven goals per game – tonight (March 11) to pip Phantoms to glory.
Koulikov said: “We were cruising at 3-0 in the first period, but I think everyone could see the energy just dropped out of the team.
“The truth is we have been hit by flu, sickness and almost everything else in the last few days. Some guys were rough last weekend and it just got worse through the week.
“We weren’t able to practice properly and we had one guy – Euan King – who was throwing up until 4am but still wanted to play.
“I’m not making excuses because we didn’t get the sort of win we needed – I’m just telling everyone the facts.
“We have fought for everything all season and for this to happen ahead of the last game is obviously really frustrating.
“But what really pleases me is the way the guys found something extra from somewhere to make sure we won the game after Streatham had come back at us.
“We know we need a miracle now in terms of the title, but we have to wait and see what happens in Cardiff.”
All appeared to be going to plan for Phantoms in the opening period (after Ales Padelek fluffed a sitter and James Ferrara saw a clear goal not given anyway). Player-coach Tom Norton opened their account before two goals in the space of 40 seconds from Ferrara and Will Weldon opened up a useful advantage.
But the creativity and intensity of the first session soon disappeared from Phantoms’ performance as they failed to take advantage of almost six minutes of powerplay – including almost two minutes of five-on-three.
While they controlled the puck and had more than 20 shots at visiting netminder Matt Colclough during the second period, only one (from Ed Knaggs) found a way past him.
And that was cancelled out when Streatham replied on a powerplay as Adam Carr tipped in to launch what would prove to be a rousing fightback.
They struck again through Aidan Doughty on another numerical advantage in the opening minute of the third period. He also drew them level with a fourth goal in little more than 12 minutes after Andreas Siagris had bagged the visitors’ third.
Suddenly it became all about salvaging victory for Phantoms on the night with any thoughts of the title long since disappeared – for those following the progress of Basingstoke at least.
They had reached double figures by the time Phantoms saw their own advantage wiped out, but Koulikov’s men summoned one last effort from their depleted energy resources.
Weldon tipped in a Griffiths shot on a powerplay to restore the advantage before Griffiths himself sealed victory when getting the telling touch to a Ferrara effort.
The sight of import Darius Pliskauskas limping back to the locker room late on was the last thing Phantoms needed as they must quickly turn their likely title frustration into fuel for a play-off challenge.
Assuming they do have to settle for second spot in the league standings, Phantoms will face Milton Keynes Thunder in the opening round of the play-offs next weekend with the home leg scheduled for Saturday (March 17).
6:51 Norton ass: Salem
10:19 J. Ferrara ass: R. Ferrara
10:59 Weldon ass: Pliskauskas
27:29 Knaggs ass: Weldon/Jamieson
53:42 Weldon (PP) ass: Griffiths
55:50 Griffiths ass: J. Ferrara/Pliskauskas
35:36 Carr (PP) ass: Farn
40:58 Doughty (PP) ass: Sigaris/Carr
44:41 Siagris ass: Farn/Paynter
47:42 Doughty ass: Siagris/Paynter
Phantoms – Ed Knaggs
Streatham – Ben Paynter