SWINDON Wildcats were left to rue a second-period self-destruction as they crashed to a 7-5 defeat to Guildford Flames in the English Premier League last night.
The Cats’ defence went AWOL for 15 crazy minutes, allowing their guests - who were icing only three imports in the absence of both EPL leading points-scorer Curtis Huppe and Milos Melicherik - to smash five goals past netminder Dean Skinns and give the Flames a head start from which Swindon were always unlikely to recover.
Guildford had lost just once in 11 outings going into the clash at the Link Centre, while the Wildcats went into the match looking for their fifth successive success.
It promised to be a Christmas cracker and it certainly delivered as adventurous forward play and clumsy defence kept the sizeable crowd entertained.
Matias Perkkio netted a hat-trick for Cats and Aaron Nell and Ryan Aldridge also got on the scoresheet, while Nathan Rempel, Dean Campbell, Jez Lundin, Andrew Sharp, Rick Plant and David Longstaff scored the goals that gave Guildford their win.
The home side reaped the benefits of a superb Dean Skinns stop from Campbell at 7.37 when Perkkio fired Cats ahead. After receiving Jonas Hoog’s pass, the Finn buried the puck into the back of the Flames’ net with aplomb.
Shane Moore hooked down Campbell to leave Cats a man short midway through the first period but the hosts emerged unscathed and almost took the lead with 13.00 on the clock, only for Bullas to see his slapshot saved by Lee.
Guildford somehow survived a double powerplay in the dying minutes of the first period, with both Paul Dixon and Neil Liddiard serving two-minute penalties.
Thanks to two saves by Lee from Nell and some rank Wildcats shooting, the Flames held out and made the most of their good fortune to level on the powerplay through David Longstaff.
Hoog looked baffled when he was handed a two-minute penalty for holding early in the second period and, with their opponents once again a man light, Guildford took advantage.
Reducing the game to snail’s pace, the Flames created the space for former Wildcat Josef Kohut to tee up Plant two minutes after the restart before, seconds later, Campbell crashed home the visitors’ third.
Spurred on by Aldridge’s team talk, Cats rallied. Lee foiled Perkkio with 25.43 on the clock but he failed to keep out Nell’s effort from an acute angle.
Having been under the cosh, Swindon were now bullish. Aldridge was denied by Lee as the home side puled forward in numbers and upped the intensity in their game.
In doing so, however, the hosts seemed to sacrifice an element of discipline in defence.
Aldridge spurned a one-one chance with Lee, before the Flames restored their two-goal lead at 32.37 thanks to Lundin and then went further ahead, through Sharp, with five minutes left of the second period.
Cats had pressed the self-destruct button and, shorthanded, Guildford went down the other end and made it a cool half-dozen through Rempel’s effort.
Perkkio grabbed his second of the night on the powerplay at 37.57, slapping home Nicky Watt’s assist, to leave Swindon with a crumb of hope at the second interval.
The import flicked home his third with a little over 10 minutes remaining in the game but Longstaff tapped home again at 52.24, after terrific vision from Kohut, to make sure Cats had to keep playing catch-up.
To their credit the hosts played along with gusto, and Aldridge slotted home from Nell’s assist to keep the game alive late on, but the second period ended up costing them dear.