Peterborough Phantoms produced one of their finest periods of the season in one of their biggest occasions to keep their hopes of silverware alive.
The city team delivered a rousing final session, which featured a late Nathan Salem equaliser, in the opening leg of the NIHL Division One South play-off final at Planet Ice last night (March 31).
The all-star team member delivered the all-important goal with a shade more than five minutes remaining to earn Phantoms a 1-1 deadlock against the team who pipped them to league title glory on goal difference.
It was a deserved outcome for Slava Koulikov’s men in a game which was every bit as intense and close as expected as rival netminders Euan King and Dean Skinns both excelled.
The opening period was an engrossing rather than entertaining affair between two teams who are so evenly matched despite having very different approaches.
King had to make a couple of smart stops to deny Ivan Antonov an opener and also plucked a Tomas Karpov effort from the air.
Bison goalie Skinns was beaten by a deflected Nathan Salem effort at the other end, but his effort trickled agonisingly wide of a post. Skinns did succeed in keeping out efforts of note from Glenn Billing and Leigh Jamieson later in a blank period.
But Basingstoke were dominant for much of the middle session and it seemed inevitable they would be rewarded with the opening goal.
It eventually arrived just past the mid-point of the contest as Karpov pounced on a poor Tom Norton pass and fired past King.
Phantoms were fortunate not to see their deficit double when Bison man Paul Petts guided another glorious opportunity wide moments later.
Salem and Ales Padelek were denied by Skinns saves in rare Phantoms’ forays forward, but it was Bison who found the target again in the closing seconds of the period.
Bison import Roman Malinik squeezed the puck past King, but referee Tim Pickett handed Phantoms a reprieve and ruled the net was already off its moorings.
But if the middle session was all about Basingstoke, then Phantoms took control of the third period as they pushed the league champions deep into their own territory.
Jamieson and Will Weldon were thwarted by an inspired Skinns before Salem poked the puck wide of a gaping target.
Phantoms bombarded the Bison goal during the first powerplay of the game with Skinns spectacularly keeping out Billing and a series of other efforts fizzing wide of the target.
But, just as you sensed it might not be Phantoms’ night, they did light the lamp as Salem raced into the zone and forced the puck past Skinns.
Being level was the least they deserved for a fine finish to their final home game of the season – a campaign which could yet come complete with two trophies.
The first of them is up for grabs in the second leg tomorrow in Basingstoke, 5.30pm.
54:55 Salem unassisted
31:33 Karpov ass: Smith/Reynolds
Phantoms – Euan King
Basingstoke – Dean Skinns