This is a semi-final showdown too close to call says Koulikov
Phantoms head coach Slava Koulikov insists the club's NIHL Division One South play-offs semi-final showdown is too close to call.
The city team take on Swindon Wildcats this weekend as they bid to keep their hopes of silverware alive. Phantoms travel to Wiltshire for the opening leg on Saturday (6.15pm) before welcoming the Wildcats to Planet Ice the following night (5.30pm).
Phantoms finished one place and eight points above Swindon in the regular season and also boasted a fine head-to-head record against them – pocketing seven points out of a possible eight.
But the Wildcats responded by dumping Phantoms out of the NIHL Autumn Cup – a competition they went on to win by beating league champions Basingstoke in the recent final - at the semi-final stage.
“Results in the league or the cup don’t mean anything when it comes to the play-offs,” said Koulikov. “We have to approach these games as a clean slate.
“We will both try to learn from our earlier games, but it is all about what happens on Saturday and Sunday.
“We have to be prepared better than Swindon, we have to execute our gameplan better and we have to want it more than they do.
“Anything is possible in hockey, but it looks like it will be a very close weekend.
“We’ve played each other six times and there has only been more than one goal in it in one of those games.
“It’s 50/50 as far as I’m concerned. We finished higher in the league, but Swindon were concentrating on the cups from February onwards and the gap between us reflects that.
“We have to ensure we keep it close in Swindon to bring the tie home in a position where we can win it.
“That doesn’t mean we are going there to sit back and try to kill the game off, but we do have to be smart against a team with lots of offensive experience.
“Everyone in our organisation wants to win a trophy this season and we know this is a huge weekend.”
Phantoms won 3-2 and 6-2 on home ice against Swindon in the regular season.
They also recorded a 5-4 success in Wiltshire before being pipped by the same scoreline in overtime when making their second visit to The Link Centre.
Both legs of the cup semi-final ended 3-3 before Swindon eventually prevailed on penalties.
Swindon overcame sixth-placed Streatham in the opening round of the play-offs last weekend.
Import forward Darius Pliskauskas remains an injury concern for Phantoms after missing both games against Milton Keynes Thunder last weekend.