Saturday, 11 April 2015

ICE HOCKEY: EPL PLAYOFF SEMIS: Phantoms Scare off Telford & Phoenix dispel the Lightning

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This past Easter weekend saw hockey fans descend upon the Coventry Skydome for the English Premier League Playoffs Finals, as the Telford Tigers, the Peterborough Phantoms, Milton Keynes Lightning and the Manchester Phoenix faced off to be crowned Playoff champions 2015.
Saturday was Semi-Finals days and saw the opening game of the weekend pit the league champions the Telford Tigers up against the Peterborough Phantoms. Telford headed into the match as big favourites to progress through to the final, after they had ran away with the league title and was expect to stay on course to complete a treble.

In the case of Peterborough, it was one of hoping to cause an upset along the way and see the newly crowned Coach of the Year in Slava Koulikov wanting to show off why he was deserving of that award. The game started with some very physical play by Telford, while the Phantoms chose to kept things simple and concentrate on playing the puck than the body and was a total flip of what everyone expected to see. 
Peterborough scored the opening goal of the contest just 1.56 in the match, when Luke Ferrara passed across the front of goal to the back post and has Slava Koulikov on hand to quickly fire it home for the Phantoms to give them an early one goal lead.

Telford continued their hard hitting game and had nothing to show for it at all. However a charging call that was called against Edgars Bebris of the Phantoms side, gave the Tigers a chance to respond and respond they did. As with less than a minute gone on the power play for the Tigers Max Birbraer was given the puck and his blast from the blue line found it’s way top corner by Janis Auzins for a goal and made it level at 1-1 with 11.14 gone.
The Phantoms caused the Tigers a lot of problems going forward with their quick plays and got behind their defense too with some patience precise attacks. Tom Pickett was the referee the Semi final and made a few questionable calls and missed a lot on both sides in the game. Telford’s Jonathon Weaver picked up a 2+10 penalty for a check from behind on a Peterborough player that sent him crashing into the boards and with two seconds remaining in the period Luke Ferrara blasted one home to restore the lead for the Phantoms to head 2-1 up after one.

Early in the second period and it saw the Phantoms losing Edgar Bebris for the remainder of the match, as he was called for a high sticks penalty and drew blood on his opponent, just 42 seconds in the middle period. Despite Telford having the edge in possession it was still very much a case of the Phantoms doing a great job in frustrating the opposing forwards and picking them off when they could. Peterborough found themselves 3-1 up at the midway stage in the game, after Darius Pliskauskas made a nice turn in the Tigers zone and then found the net to score an unassisted goal for a two goal cushion.

Telford tried everything against the Phantoms to take them out of their game plan, but Peterborough stuck to their task brilliantly throughout and was proving why Slava Koulikov was the coach of the year with his team working hard and well drilled team against a juggernaut in the Tigers. Peterborough frustrated their rivals and saw them looking fairly in control after two periods of play and looked like the Tigers were done for.
However the start of the Second period saw Telford back in the game as some nice build up play by Jonathan Weaver and Scott McKenzie; saw a blistering shot come in from Rick Plant to see Janis Auzins beaten in the Peterborough goals to make it a one goal game. Telford came close and was knocking on the door of Auzins, but is defenseman playing well to thwart all attempts that came in. 

With the Tigers pushing further for the tying goal it left the Telford backdoor open and the Ferrara brothers in James and Luke, set up Darius Pliskauskas to seal the game for their side. It saw Lithuanian sniper cut through the Tigers defense and went one on one with Tom Murdy before making a move on him and sliding it in for a huge roar in the Skydome Arena, to which the fans of almost every other clubs set of supports joined in on the Phantoms fifth goal celebration and condemn the double winners this season to a surprise end.

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Saturday night saw the Manchester Phoenix overcoming the Milton Keynes Lightning 7-4 in what was a very scrappy game at the Coventry Skydome, to claim the win in the second semi final of the day. Shaun Thompson and Robin Kovar were the two goal heroes for the Phoenix as both scored a brace each in the win, while former Manchester man Curtis Huppe scored twice himself to see him help his MK side staying in contention till the end.

Manchester came out strong and saw Shaun Thompson lay a big mid ice hit on an opponent within the opening minute of play that saw the Lightning player heading straight to the bench over the hit he received. That aggressive play brought Phoenix a goal through Shaun Thompson as the forward fired high on net and saw the puck go through traffic and past Stephen Wall for a 1-0 lead at 2.47 with James Archer and Robin Kovar assisting. 

Milton Keynes was being out played in the opening ten minutes of the contest but weren`t out the game either. The Lightning then equalised at 8.49 when Curtis Huppe fired on Steve Fone and the Manchester netminder seemed to glove it but could only watch as it escaped and when into the back of the net for 1-1 with Ross Bowers credited with assist.
Shaun Thompson netted his and Phoenix second goal of the game to put Manchester back in front at 2-1 with James Archer and Robin Kovar once again combining for the goal at 9.47. Once again though the Lightning struck back to make it 2-2, with Lewis Hook beating the goalie to see this game head into the first break all square.

The Start of the second period saw the Phoenix going back ahead for a third time in this semi final clash with Robin Kovar turning goal scorer at 21.02 with the Czech man beating Stephen Wall for a 3-2 score. It came as no surprise to anyone over five minutes later, when MK scored courtesy of Curtis Huppe, with the defence’s of both teams lacking massively in that department in this game.
Manchester then scored what proved to be crucial two late goals in the second period, to give them some breathing space from their opponents and saw them now having to just avoid a bad period and they were through to the final. Robin Kovar found the back of the net for goal number four at 36.59 and then Adam Walker finished off a nice move to see the Phoenix 5-3 up entering the final twenty minutes.

Match official in this contest was Stefan Hogarth and came close at times to losing control at points as well. Petr Horava was lucky to escape a penalty for a clear check from behind on Shaun Thompson as the Phoenix man was on his knees trying to get up when Horava hit him in the back and was sent crashing face first into the boards and Thompson’s team mates had a heat little chat with the MK man.
The game was like a ‘War of Attrition’ for the most parts, with neither side fully stamping their authority on the game and had the sides enjoying passages of play infrequency through-out.  

Manchester knew that their rival would come at them hard and try to score an early goal to boost their confidence in the period, but the Phoenix just had the psychological edge with the two goals lead in the game for the losing finalists from last year. MK did pull a goal back at 46.34 after some sloppy work by the Manchester side failed to close down Chris Wiggins and the enforcer for the Lightning gave his side a life line to trail by one.

Both sides seemed to cancel each the other out and had no team fully grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and onto victory.  Manchester sealed their place in the final with two empty net goals in the final minute of the game, as firstly Frankie Bakrlik scored and then James Archer followed suit to see the Phoenix reach their fourth successive playoff final in a row to set up a grand final against the Peterborough Phantoms.

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