25 September 2018
Ask any goalie about his role, and he’ll likely tell you it’s all about giving his team a chance to win. Ask any coach about the value of strong goaltending, and he’ll likely talk about how the netminder is 50% of the team. This was a game that amply demonstrated the value of excellence between the piping.
Alexander Lazushin’s 40 saves were decisive in this battle. A high-class defensive performance all round helped to keep Neftekhimik at bay – our guys blocked 19 shots and twice killed 3-on-5 penalties. But it was Lazushin, a summer signing from Lada who numbers Lokomotiv, Metallurg Novokuznetsk and Dynamo Moscow among his previous clubs, whose performance caught the eye. In an often-frenetic game, he was an oasis of calm. A passage of play early in the third period, with Red Star protecting a fragile 1-0 lead, typified what he was all about. Neftekhimik’s Emil Garipov stole the puck behind the net and burst through on the wraparound, only for Lazushin to close the door. From the resultant face-off, Red Star grabbed possession and Olli Palola went flying up the ice in search of a second, only to see his shot saved. Immediately, Neftekhimik brought play to the other end and Juuso Puustinen found himself clean through with only Lazushin to beat and the home crowd clamoring for glory. Our goalie was the calmest man in the arena, blocking the Finn’s effort and preserving that lead.
The opening goal had come long before when two of our Finns combined in the 13th minute. Ville Lajunen thumped in the point shot, Veli-Matti Savinainen got the vital touch to deceive Ilya Ezhov. If the opening frame was fairly even, the second period saw Neftekhimik raise its offensive game in search of a tying goal. Now those blocked shots came to the fore, with Red Star’s players putting their bodies on the line. Small wonder: it was the first time in five games that Kunlun had scored first. Having overcome that hurdle, nobody wanted to be responsible for letting those foundations crumble.
Battle continued. Neftekhimik pressed, brought pucks to Lazushin’s net and sought to lock down Red Star in our own zone. Kunlun absorbed the pressure and looked for chances to hit on the counter. With five minutes left, the perfect chance presented itself – and again, it was a tribute to the team’s resilience and persistence. Brandon Yip followed up his own dump-and-chase, finding the energy late in the game to get down to the other end of the ice and pressure the home net. The gambit paid off: Ezhov left it for a team-mate, Alexei Volgin blundered, Taylor Back prevented the defenseman’s clearance tipping the puck to Yip on the doorstep and Ezhov was left sliding desperately back into the space he had vacated as the puck flew into the empty net. A two-goal lead proved unassailable.
The win marks Red Star’s first shut-out of the season. It’s our first victory at Nizhnekamsk after losses on our two previous visits to Neftekhimik. And, with two wins from our last four games, there are signs that a new-look team is starting to gel in the way we all hoped and expected it would. Now, we put our improving form to the ultimate test – a trip to defending champion Ak Bars on Wednesday.