Manchester Phoenix gave their fans the perfect Christmas present on Sunday with a 6-0 hammering of title rivals Guildford Flames.
The emphatic win means Tony Hand’s men top the league with two games in hand on the reigning champs at the halfway point of the season.
Sunday’s victory came after Phoenix battled to a shootout win in Peterborough on Saturday.
Fresh from a weekend off, the visitors took the lead after just 42 seconds when Robin Kovar and Frankie Bakrlik combined to set up Andy McKinney.
The Phantoms equalised midway through the period when new boy Daris Pliskauskas set up Erik Piatak, who rounded Steve Fone to score.
An end-to-end battle ensued until the line of Kovar, Bakrlik and McKinney combined once more to lethal effect, with McKinney bagging his second of the night.
Peterborough levelled again six minutes into the second period when Piatak beat Fone.
Phoenix suffered a blow shortly after when Bakrlik was forced out of the game with an apparent knee injury.
A boarding call on Manchester’s James Archer then sparked some rough stuff, with Peterborough’s Greg Pick and Phoenix’s Joe Graham and McKinney receiving 10-minute misconduct penalties.
Peterborough piled on the pressure in the third period but Fone produced a string of outstanding saves to keep the scores level.
With no score in overtime, despite a controversial elbowing penalty for Archer, the game went to a shootout.
After misses from Piatak and Kovar in the first round, Peterborough’s Luke Ferrara fanned on his shot. Archer beat Damian King to edge Phoenix in front and when Fone denied Pliskauskas, Hand’s side took the extra point back to Manchester.
After the game, the veteran player-coach said: “I am very pleased with the lads tonight; they gave their all for the cause. Losing Frankie was a big blow but everybody knuckled down to their responsibilities.”
Phoenix returned to home ice to face the Flames on Sunday and it looked like it would be another closely fought affair as the EPL’s top two sides ended the period deadlocked at 0-0.
But the hosts brought a near sell-out crowd to their feet four minutes into the second stanza with a power play goal. Michal Psurny found Hand and the boss swept the puck to captain Luke Boothroyd, who smashed the puck home.
Phoenix doubled their lead three minutes later when Hand and James Neil set up Psurny before Robin Kovar staked his claim for goal of the season by beating his man, exchanging passes and clipping the puck high into the net to make it 3-0.
The home side did not take their foot off the gas in the third period. Phoenix added another power play goal on 48.16 when Hand and Boothroyd set up Archer.
Kovar grabbed his second of the night a little over a minute later with an assist from Robert Schnabel. The giant defenceman added a rocket of his own with eight minutes left to wrap up what prove a crucial victory come the end of the regular season.
After the game, Hand said: “This was an important game for us and the team took their goals well. Guildford are a top team and although short benched, they looked dangerous. I thought we dominated the second period and moving top of the league going into the festive break is good for the team.”
Phoenix’s next game is at home to the Peterborough Phantoms on Sunday 29 December before a trip to Milton Keynes Lightning the following night.
Saturday 21 December
Basingstoke Bison 1-0 Bracknell Bees
Milton Keynes Lightning 7-1 Slough Jets
Peterborough Phantoms 2-3 Manchester Phoenix
Telford Tigers 5-4 Sheffield Steeldogs
Sunday 22 December
Bracknell Bees 0-5 Basingstoke Bison
Manchester Phoenix 6-0 Guildford Flames
Sheffield Steeldogs 1-5 Telford Tigers
Slough Jets 4-7 Milton Keynes Lightning
Pic: Yolanda Amor-Allan