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Peterborough Phantoms missed out on the NIHL Division One South title last season due to the numbers of goals they scored.
This time around they could be left counting the cost of the amount of penalties they have conceded if again seeing the second-tier silverware go elsewhere.
The city side were pipped 3-2 by table-topping title favourites Swindon at Planet Ice last night (February 17) in a hugely important clash in the chase for glory.
It was an engrossing game which ultimately hinged on a couple of powerplay goals from the visitors that followed seemingly soft calls from referee Richard Belfitt.
They will certainly have Phantoms head coach Slava Koulikov studying the match video at the earliest opportunity following a night in which his side’s destiny was taken out of their own hands.
While they remain third in the standings and within five points of the summit, Phantoms must now rely on their pacesetting conquerors slipping up to be able to pounce.
And that is entirely possible with Swindon still having to face second-placed Basingstoke – who Phantoms beat on penalties the previous night (February 16) – on three occasions.
“It was a weekend of two top-end games which could have gone either way,” admitted Koulikov.
“We managed to come away from Basingstoke with the two points on Saturday, but we couldn’t quite get the win against Swindon to follow it up.
“I give credit to Basingstoke and Swindon for the way they have performed, and I must also give credit to my guys for the way they battled hard over two games and six periods.
“We could have won both games, but we could easily have lost both of them as well. All in all it was a magnificent weekend of hockey.
“Swindon are now in pole position to win the title and our chance of doing that has been reduced, but we’re still in a decent spot. We will only worry about winning our games and seeing were that takes us.”
Phantoms provided the early breakthrough as Will Weldon struck with the aid of a big deflection off a defenceman after Nathan Pollard fed the puck into his path from a face-off.
Weldon had initially been contesting that face-off himself only to be thrown out by a fussy linesman, but he certainly had the last laugh.
A double-save denied Glenn Billing a second Phantoms goal before Swindon pair Max Birbraer and Eddie Bebris were both thwarted at the other end.
But Bebris, a play-off winner with Phantoms back in 2015, did succeeding in levelling when poking in a Birbraer pass soon after.
Phantoms captain James Ferrara and Swindon player-coach Aaron Nell both squandered glorious short-handed opportunities before Corey McEwen hit the bar on a powerplay in the closing stages of an exciting period.
But it was Swindon who were the stronger side in the second period and they were rewarded with a go-ahead goal.
It came from Chris Jones on a powerplay which was questionably awarded when the Phantoms net was knocked off its moorings by defenceman Scott Robson following a shove by Bebris.
It was also particularly harsh on netminder Jordan Marr who made a succession of fine saves throughout a period in which Phantoms offered little threat as an attacking force – especially when failing to make a 90-second spell of five on three count.
They were much more lively in the opening minutes of the third period when McEwen saw a fierce shot saved superbly before Petr Stepanek levelled with a fine burst and finish during a powerplay.
Billing then struck a post as the frame of the goal prevented Phantoms from completing a quick turnaround in a contest eventually settled at the other end.
Jones was again the man to strike on a powerplay after Phantoms youngster Jarvis Hunt looked to be harshly called for a tripping offence and the home side were unable to respond in the near eight minutes that remained.
It means they have collected only two points from a possible eight during back-to-back league weekends against Swindon and Basingstoke.
Koulikov added: “We didn’t manage the second period well enough again and that has been a story of the last few games.
“In a game of that size we also had to have more of a threat on the powerplay and that’s something we need to sit down and review.
“It has been really good over the season and even though Petr scored on one in the third period, it didn’t really click.
“We also picked up too many penalties for my liking, but I need to look back at the video to see some of the calls again.”
Phantoms now face three successive away fixtures in two different competitions. They go to Streatham on Saturday (February 16) and Raiders on Sunday (February 17) in the league before heading to Bracknell on February 20 for the second leg of their NIHL South Cup semi-final clash.
4.23 Weldon ass: Pollard
42.37 Stepanek (PP) unassisted
11.14 Bebris ass: Birbraer/Whitfield
37.52 C. Jones (PP) ass: Bullas/Hoog
52.02 C. Jones (PP) ass: Hoog/Bebris
PHANTOMS – Jordan Marr
SWINDON – Chris Jones