27 September 2018
In a game full of incident and excitement, Red Star pulled off its most impressive win of the season. Not only did our guys beat the defending KHL champion and record a first ever victory against Ak Bars, they did it after recovering from a hammer-blow midway through the game.
This was a win built on courage, resilience and no little skill. A willingness to take the early initiative brought dividends, a refusal to panic in sudden adversity kept the team in the game and a late short-handed winner sparked a joyful conclusion as our brief tour of Tatarstan yielded maximum points.
The start was solid. Far from being overawed by Ak Bars’ reputation as one of the blue riband clubs of the KHL, Red Star went out to pressure its illustrious host. The first period saw the teams go toe-to-toe, with Kunlun giving rather more than it got. Taylor Beck’s opening goal in the 16th minute, converting a 2-on-1 breakaway himself after Michael Latta battled for the puck in his own zone, was just reward for an enterprising first 20 minutes.
It got even better at the start of the second. Anton Lander took a tripping penalty and Beck potted his second of the game from the resultant power play. This time, our PP moved the puck neatly around the Ak Bars zone and Beck collected Marc-Andre Gragnani’s pass on the left-hand face-off spot before picking his spot inside Vladislav Podyapolsky’s far post. 2-0 up, and the game plan was going perfectly.
Ak Bars, though, is a champion team for a reason. And, in a blistering passage of play, the home side unleashed its full fury on our defense. Three goals in just 41 seconds saw a 2-0 lead turn into a 2-3 deficit and, with half-an-hour to play, it would have been easy to lose a little faith in Kunlun’s prospects.
But this team is not one to give up easily. There was no panic, no urgent rush for a time-out or sudden change of goalie. The response from the bench was calm; the overall plan was sound, despite sudden adversity, and there was time enough to put things right. The reward came four minutes before the second intermission: Olli Palola led a quick counter-attack, Victor Barkley’s wrister from between the hashmarks found the far corner. It would be Ak Bars that was changing goalies come the break.
In the final frame, inevitably, our defense was overworked. Ak Bars poured forward in search of a winner, Ivan Nalimov would finish with 37 saves from 40 shots on his net. At the other end, chances were hard to come by. And yet, with less than two minutes to play and while killing a penalty against Brandon Yip, Red Star snatched a dramatic winner. Ondrej Vitasek made the clearance, looking to relieve the pressure as much as launch a counter-attack, but the tardy reaction of Andrei Markov enabled Veli-Matti Savinainen to pounce on the puck and streak up the ice. The Finn kept his composure in front of Alexander Sharychenkov, going top shelf to poach the winning goal and provide a triumphant end to a memorable game.