Close, but not close enough

19 December 2018

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Wojtek Wolski achieved a landmark 200th point as a Red Star rally fell just short of salvaging something from a second game against Amur in 24 hours. In some respects, this game was a mirror of yesterday’s meeting between the teams. Monday saw Red Star open a 3-0 lead before the second intermission and go on to win despite a late goal from Amur. Today, those roles were reversed. Our guest from Khabarovsk found us all too hospitable early on, but a late rally restored home pride even if it could not save the game.

“I think this is on me,” admitted head coach Jussi Tapola after the game. “I couldn’t send the message across that, in these back-to-back games, the team that loses the first one always comes much harder in the second one. Basically, we lost this game in the first period. In preparing for the game, Amur was a lot better than us and it’s so hard to come back from three goals. We got close, but it wasn’t enough.”

From 0-3, it would take something special to retrieve the game. And, while the fightback ultimately fell short, it did bring a milestone for our forward, Wojtek Wolski. His assist on Ville Lajunen’s power play goal early in the third period brought up 200 points for the Canadian in KHL regular season play. Wolski received Brandon Yip’s pass in a central position and flicked a deft backhanded feed for Lajunen to smash home his second goal in as many games. Of Wolski’s 200-point tally, 35 (9+26) have come in his time with Red Star; the remainder were shared between Torpedo and Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

Now the fightback was on. Red Star has delivered some spectacular finishes this season and when Michael Latta made it a one-goal game with seven minutes to play there was every prospect of another grand finale here. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that Latta’s finish – a close-range stuffing home of a stray puck that eluded a crowd in front of Marek Langhamer’s net – was a thing of great finesse, but it paved the way for a storming conclusion.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, Kunlun was unable to deliver another one of those late, late salvage acts. A minor penalty on Victor Bartley in the 56th minute halted our momentum at a crucial moment and even though the PK was solid, the clock ran down before our offense could fashion the big chance to force overtime.

Ultimately, though, this was a game lost in the early stages. The first period saw Amur take the initiative, opening a two-goal lead thanks to a Pavel Dedunov goal midway through the frame and an Igor Rudenkov effort five minutes later. Alexander Lazushin had to be alert to deny Rudenkov another soon afterwards when the visiting forward produced a smart redirect in front of the net and had our goalie scrambling to make a double save. The middle session saw Red Star posing more of an offensive threat, but a power play goal fashioned by the Ushenin twins enabled Amur to extend its lead.

Only in the third period did Kunlun really show its best game, saving the best to last and almost retrieving another seemingly lost cause. It wasn’t enough on the night but it could kickstart the team’s momentum ahead of Thursday’s home game against Dynamo Moscow, a clash between two teams eager for points to bolster their respective playoff pushes.

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