Finished in Finnish

18 December 2018

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The first half of this game was a tight, hard-fought battle. These Far Eastern match-ups often take on the character of a local derby – local, admittedly, being something of a relative term for Red Star – with neither team willing to give an inch.

But the second half was defined by a Finnish flurry – three goals in 102 seconds, each scored by one of our imports from Finland. Olli Palola was the first to show, tucking away the rebound from an Oskars Bartulis point shot with a neat backhand finish. It took just over a minute to double the lead: Justin Fontaine and Brandon Yip combined to set up Ville Lajunen in the deep slot. Lajunen’s seventh goal of the season came a mere 11 seconds into Red Star’s second power play of the night.

Next came Joonas Jarvinen, firing home from the point for his first goal of the season. Palola generated the traffic in front of Evgeny Alikin’s net, unsighting the visiting goalie as the shot came in. With barely two minutes to go until the second intermission, Red Star enjoyed a commanding three-goal lead.

That quickfire salvo set Red Star on course for a much-needed victory, snapping a five-game losing streak and opening a two-point gap over Traktor in our race for a playoff place.

Yet it might have been very different if Amur had taken some of its early chances. Alexander Lazushin was called into action on several occasions and made a big save to stifle a two-on-one breakaway shortly before Kunlun went goal crazy.

“Hockey is momentum game,” said head coach Jussi Tapola. “Amur had their chances but they didn’t score from those. We had a good save from Lazushin and in the next five minutes we scored three goals. I think it would have been a different game if they had scored from those chances.

“It was so important to use our momentum and this was a big win for us.”

If there was one disappointment it came late in the game. The third period was largely dominated by our forwards – Red Star led the shot count 13-3 – but Amur got the only goal to deny Lazushin a deserved shut-out. Kirill Rasskazov’s consolation strike was too late to threaten Kunlun’s lead, although it did bring a debut point for Marek Hrbas, Amur’s new Czech defenseman.

Hrbas wasn’t the only new face. Today’s game also brought a new Chinese player into the KHL ranks. Huang Qianyi was named in the roster for Monday’s encounter after getting a call-up from our farm club last week. The 19-year-old did not make it onto the ice but head coach Tapola was encouraged by what he saw over the past few days.

“He’s a forward and he’s a smart guy,” said the Finn. “He’s good on offense but he needs to have more strength and learn to play on defense. Of course, though, he has talent and skill.”

Tuesday brings an instant rematch against Amur and a chance to record back-to-back wins for the first time since November 21.

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