Peterborough Phantoms arguably saved their best until last when triumphing in a top-of-the-table showdown to end 2017 at the NIHL Division One South summit.
The city side produced a terrific third-period turnaround as they earned a 2-1 win in a first league clash of the campaign against title rivals Basingstoke last night (December 30).
A powerplay leveller from Glenn Billing was followed by Lithuanian international Darius Pliuskauskas’ winner as Phantoms beat the Bison on their own Hampshire ice.
They were aided by another man-of-the-match display from netminder Euan King, who also excelled when they earned a point in an overtime loss at Swindon the previous evening.
“It was the first of four league games between ourselves and Basingstoke and all of them are four-pointers,” said Koulikov.
“To get the result is really important – even more so on the road against such a strong team.
“It is a great way to end the year and I congratulated the guys afterwards on finishing 2017 in top spot.
“We know there is still a very long way to go, but that is where we want to stay. The performances and results we are producing show we are capable of being there.
“It is a big spell in our season. We’ve had three games against other title rivals in the past week and come out of them with five points.
“I’m very happy with that return. Everyone from netminder to rotation guys has played a big part.”
Basingstoke made the breakthrough last night courtesy of Ivan Antonov’s powerplay strike in the second period, but Phantoms levelled on a numerical advantage of their own in the opening minute of the final session.
Billing blasted past Bison netminder Dean Skinns and the home side’s appeals for the goal to be scrubbed out due to their net being off its moorings were ignored by referee Stephen Matthews.
A series of fine saves from King ensured Phantoms remained on level terms before Pliskauskas completed the turnaround when tapping home a rebound after Billing had seen his initial effort saved.
Import ace Pliskauskas then struck a post in the dying seconds after Basingstoke pulled Skinns in an attempt to snatch an equaliser, but it was Phantoms who emerged victorious at a venue where they were thumped 6-2 in an NIHL Autumn Cup clash three weeks earlier.
“Both teams played well in the first period with a few chances at both ends,” added Koulikov.
“Basingstoke were magnificent in the second period when they stepped up a gear and we struggled to handle them.
“Euan played really well to restrict them to one goal and we knew we had nothing to lose in the third period.
“We got an early goal to bring ourselves level, managed to get a second to lead and then shut the game down.
“To turn it around like that was very pleasing and the next challenge is to try to follow up this result on New Year’s Day.”
That is when Phantoms welcome Basingstoke to Planet Ice (5.30pm).
33:14 Antonov (PP) ass: Malinik/Baird.
40:37 Billing (PP) ass: Pliskauskas/Salem
55:29 Pliskauskas ass: Billing/J. Ferrara
Basingstoke – Joe Baird
Phantoms – Euan King