Head coach Slava Koulikov admitted Peterborough Phantoms’ title hopes suffered a fatal blow last night (February 17).
The city team succumbed to a 3-2 defeat at London side Raiders in a NIHL Division One South contest after conceding two goals in the final period after twice leading.
Phantoms were unable to hang onto advantages provided by powerplay goals from Glenn Billing and Ales Padelek as they fell seven points behind table-topping title favourites Swindon.
The Wildcats have seized the initiative in the race for honours after roaring to a weekend double against closest challengers Basingstoke and now look to have one hand on the silverware.
Koulikov refused to be critical of his players in the wake of their defeat, but was left to reflect on seeing two goals controversially washed out by referee Paul Brooks in the first period.
Koulikov admitted: “There is no doubt about it – the title has gone.
“We will play every one of our remaining games in the way we always do and try to win them all.
“The way we’re performing right now we have a great chance of doing that, but the title is not in our hands anymore.
“I cannot fault my team as we played one our best games in the last few weeks. The only thing we could have done is put away more of the ‘grade A’ chances we had.
“But we had a goal given against us at Basingstoke last weekend which 100 per cent did not go in . . . then we had two perfectly good goals washed out in this game.
“It would have been a very different game if we were 3-0 up as we should have been and things like this cannot be allowed to continue to happen.”
Billing saw an effort scrubbed out early on when converting his own rebound. It was announced the goal was disallowed due to a man being in the crease, but Koulikov was told by the officials it was due to the net being off its moorings.
It’s safe to say the Phantoms camp disputed both explanations, but Billing soon struck again during a spell of five on three – and this time it was allowed to stand!
The breakthrough arrived seconds after Phantoms lost import star Petr Stepanek to injury after he was caught by a late hit which went unpunished.
Another Phantoms effort was then ruled out for a man in the crease and they had to be content with a narrow advantage from a period they dominated.
That lead was wiped out by Raiders defenceman Sean Barry just before the mid-point of the game, but Phantoms hit the front again when Padelek provided the finishing touch on another powerplay.
A double-save from netminder Jordan Marr kept Phantoms ahead early in the final period, but he was soon beaten as Juraj Huska squeezed in a loose puck from a tight angle.
And the Raiders turnaround was completed with little more than six minutes remaining when Jake Sylvester forced in from close range.
Phantoms did finish the game on the powerplay, but they couldn’t find the twine as their title challenge fizzled out.
Koulikov’s men now turn their attention to the second leg of their NIHL South Cup semi-final at Bracknell on Wednesday (February 20).
The city side lead the Bees 6-3 on aggregate as they bid to earn a final date against Basingstoke.
Phantoms’ next league outing is on Saturday (February 23) when they entertain strugglers Milton Keynes Thunder at Planet Ice (7pm). That is followed by a trip to rock-bottom Invicta on Sunday (February 24).
29.21 Barry ass: Connolly
47.52 Huska ass: Connolly
53.51 Sylvester ass: Sedivy
8.33 Billing (PP) ass: J. Ferrara/Norton
34.36 Padelek (PP) ass: J. Ferrara/Norton
RAIDERS – Dan Scott
PHANTOMS – Tom Norton