Leeds Knights blast Peterborough Phantoms away to leave two-horse title race in NIHL National with Milton Keynes Lightning
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If anybody had any doubts that the battle for the NIHL National league title had lately become just a two-horse race, Leeds Knights emphatically put that thinking to bed on Sunday night.
Third-placed Peterborough Phantoms would probably have still fancied their chances of getting back in the mix between the leaders and the team just below them – Milton Keynes Lightning – had they been able to overturn Leeds on home ice.
But they didn’t stand a chance once they were blown away by a rampant Knights, who stunned the building by racing into a 5-0 lead inside 15 minutes.
Things calmed down a little in the second when the hosts got on the board twice through Glenn Billing and Martins Susters – but they still conceded three at the other end.
Defenceman Dylan Hehir and Adam Barnes – so consistent since returning from his long absence – both got on the board, while Mac Howlett completed his hat-trick.
That achievement was made possible after the flying winger got the Knights’ off to the perfect start with their first two goals of the night, the first a short-handed effort at 3.35 before he tipped in a Cole Shudra blast just over three minutes later.
Jake Witkowski made it 3-0 after chasing a seemingly lost cause and firing home at 13.42 and before the hosts’ had had chance to recover, they fell further behind to two goals inside 19 seconds of each other, Carter Hamill making it 4-0 at 14.27 before defenceman Josh Hodgkinson grabbed his first of the campaign.
Howlett made it four for the night at 45.02, before Alex Padelek grabbed a third for the Phantoms just over three minutes later.
The two meet later this month in the two-legged National Cup final, providing the Phantoms with the perfect platform to exact some revenge.
Even though mathematically they can still overhaul the Knights, their regular season dream was effectively brought crashing down in front of their own fans, the 9-3 defeat leaving them 10 points adrift of the leaders with eight games remaining. The Knights also have a game in hand. Peterborough visit Milton Keynes on Saturday.
It was tougher on home ice the night before for the Knights when Bees IHC arrived looking to keep already-faint play-off hopes alive.
Having lost 5-2 and 8-6 on their previous visits, it looked like a third defeat would be a foregone conclusion when Kieran Brown fired home with just 47 seconds gone.
But Brendan Walkom quickly restored parity and although Witkowski got the Knights in front again at 5.12, the hosts couldn’t afford to switch off all night.
Brown’s second came in the 23rd minute with Matt Haywood making it 4-1 at 36.02. But Danny Rose made it interesting again with 18 seconds of the second remaining before Josh Smith made it a one-goal game again just over two minutes into the third.
Walkom’s power play goal brought the visitors level at 52.51, but the Knights steadied themselves and responded through Haywood at 56.35, Shudra making sure of both points by firing an empty-netter with just 38 seconds remaining.