Peterborough Phantoms coach Slava Koulikov believes a third successive top-four finish in the English Premier League is in the bag after seeing his side blow away Guildford last night (February 4).
The city men swept to a super 6-1 success at Planet Ice with the majority of the damage being done in a sensational opening session.
The triumph left Phantoms 13 points clear of their fifth-placed victims in the amended English Premier League standings following the demise of Manchester Phoenix last week.
And Koulikov is confident that margin will not be closed down during the remainder of the regular season - now reduced to 48 games - with Phantoms sitting pretty in third place.
“This was a big game in terms of league position,” said Koulikov. “Guildford have been going very well lately and they are always a dangerous team.
“Mathematically it is still not absolutely certain, but my view is that a finish in the top four is now sorted for us after this win. I’d put my house on the line about that now.
“The guys have worked hard all season from the first puck-drop in September to make this happen. It is a good achievement for us and the goal now is to finish as high as we possibly can.”
Phantoms were almost unstoppable in the opening period last night. Edgars Bebris put an early opener on a plate for Darius Pliskauskas before Ales Padelek’s powerplay persistence led to a second goal for captain James Ferrara.
Petr Stepanek picked out Martins Susters from behind the net to continue the onslaught before Owen Griffiths finished clinically after bursting into the Flames zone.
Not only did those strikes all but seal victory for Phantoms with little more than a quarter-of-an-hour on the clock, they also prompted a change of goaltender with bewildered Dean Skinns taken out of the firing line.
Replacement Mike Will fared considerably better although was powerless to prevent Marc Levers from marking his earlier-than-expected Phantoms return with a fifth goal early in the second period.
Levers, who has completed his rehabilitation from recent hernia surgery ahead of schedule, was the beneficiary of fine work from Griffiths and James Archer.
The only other goal of the middle stanza arrived at the other end as Jez Lundin blasted in a Flames consolation on a powerplay although some vehement protests from Phantoms over a high-stick obscuring the view of netminder Janis Auzins fell on deaf ears.
It was merely a minor irritation rather than a significant situation on a night in which Phantoms were a class above their visitors.
They helped themselves to a further goal just 11 seconds into the final period as Wehebe Darge put away another classy Bebris assist.
It was fights, rather than goals, which provided the major entertainment in the closing session as Petr Stepanek gave Guildford import Kari Sihvonen a good hiding in front of a Phantoms net by than occupied by back-up Dan Lane, who received his first EPL ice-time of the season.
And Greg Pick then launched his second spell as a Phantoms player in trademark style by dropping the gloves for a great scrap with Andy McKinney to complete a hat-trick of dust-ups on the night. Tom Norton had delivered some retribution to Tom Duggan in the second period after the visiting forward slashed Auzins.
Koulikov added: “We had a really good first period when we capitalised on our chances and put ourselves in a position to win the game.
“We did to Guildford pretty much what they did to us the last time we went there - we built up a big lead and they found it very hard to try to come back from that.
“Our defensive coverage wasn’t always the best, but we managed to maintain our advantage and I’m sure the fans were entertained.
“They got to see a good performance, plenty of goals and three fights.”
Phantoms hit the road tonight (February 5) when they go to table-topping Telford, 6pm.
2:37 Pliskauskas ass: Bebris/Darge
9:41 J. Ferrara (PP) ass: Padelek/Stepanek
11:39 Susters ass: Stepanek
15:42 Griffiths ass: Archer/Norton
28:18 Levers ass: Griffiths/Archer
40:11 Darge ass: Bebris/Pick
37:44 Lundin (PP) ass: Meyers/Satan
PHANTOMS - Janis Auzins
GUILDFORD - Danny Meyers