Don't look now, Bandits fans, but the first-round playoff matchup against Philadelphia beginning next Saturday might not be as cut and dried as originally suspected.
The class of the American Hockey League from about Christmastime on, the veteran Phantoms made mincemeat of the Bandits in their first five meetings, outscoring them 26-9.
But with a 3-2 victory over Philadelphia at Baltimore Arena last night, the Bandits have now won three of the past four meetings between the division foes.
"We're using the same game plan we've had in effect against them the last four games," coach Moe Mantha said. "There's nothing complicated about it: Just stick to the basics and make the simple play."
There's no doubt the conservative approach has had the desired effect. In the three setbacks to Baltimore over the past few weeks, the usually freewheeling Phantoms have been limited to two goals per game.
Aiding the success coming from a strong defensive posture of late has been the goaltending of Mike Bales, who exudes confidence.
"And the young guys feed off that," Mantha said. "You can tell they feel good just having Mike back there."
Igor Nikulin gave the Bandits the lead just before the midpoint of the first period with his 24th goal. After the Phantoms tied, the teams played even until the eight-minute mark of the third period, when Craig Reichert scored his 20th to make it 2-1.
Matt Cullen's first goal as a Bandit at 16: 10 all but assured victory and clinched the fourth division playoff spot over Carolina.
Philadelphia 1 0 1 -- 2
Bandits .. ..1 0 2 -- 3
First period -- 1. Baltimore, Nikulin 24 (Sacco, Wren), 8: 09 pp; 2. Philadelphia, Bialowas 6 (Lank, White), 12: 02. Penalties -- Stevens P (tripping), 7: 51; Tsulygin B (cross-checking), 15: 30.
Second period -- No scoring. Penalties -- Bench, Baltimore (too many on ice); Sacco B (holding), 7: 34; Trnka B (holding), 13: 14; Forbes P (high-sticking), 18: 55.
Third period -- 3. Baltimore, Reichert 20 (Stevenson, Corcoran), 8: 16; 4. Baltimore, Cullen 1 (Reichert, Tsulygin), 16: 10 pp; 5. Philadelphia, Darby 25 (McCosh), 19: 38. Penalties -- Corcoran B (holding), 2: 35; Bowen P (fighting), Cullen B (fighting) , 9: 32; Mitchell P (fighting), Stevens P (roughing), Wren B (roughing), Stevenson B (fighting), 14: 22; Coles P (holding), 15: 22;
Shots on goal -- Philadelphia 11-11-11-33; Baltimore 15-4-8-27. Power-play opportunities -- Philadelphia 0-of-5; Baltimore 2-of-3. Goalies -- Little (31-12-7) 27 shots, 24 saves; Bales (13-21-7) 33 shots, 31 saves. Referee -- Conrad Hache. Linesmen -- Pat Dapuzzo, Matt Dunne. A -- 3,157.
Pub Date: 4/12/97