The end of the playoff dream

15 February 2019

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Defeat in Astana finally ended Red Star’s chances of making the playoffs. Thursday’s loss leaves our team nine points adrift of eighth-placed Traktor with just four games – and eight points – available before the end of the season.

In truth, the writing had been on the wall since the end of January: after finishing home stand on a high with a 5-2 win over Avangard, Red Star failed to kick on the road. That protracted run of indifferent form saw the playoff places slip away and the season ended in disappointment. The reasons have already been discussed many times: extraordinary misfortune with injuries, resulting in too many games played short-benched and missing out on defensive options. Too much inconsistency, not just from game to game but even from period to period: how often have we seen a strong position at the first intermission turn around in the second frame? It hasn’t been for a lack of effort, nor even a shortage of ability – victories against big-hitters like CSKA, Ak Bars, Avangard and Barys this season show that the team is capable of good things. However, too many losses against our immediate rivals for playoff spots proved terminal.

Our second trip to Kazakhstan saw us taking on an opponent with its eyes firmly on top spot in the Chernyshev Division. Barys had already been given a boost before this game with news that Amur had beaten Avangard, the only team capable of denying the Kazakhs first place in the section and second place in the Eastern Conference. Now the home team was ready to take full advantage of that and collect two points that would all-but assure it of matching its best-ever regular season placing.

As a result, the first period started with Barys in the ascendancy. A shot-count of 18-5 in the host’s favor told its own story and the pressure paid off when Pavel Akolzin opened the scoring in the 15th minute. Not for the first time, strong goaltending from Alexander Lazushin kept our team in with a chance in the face of a powerful opposition offense. The second period was less lopsided, but once again it was Barys that grabbed the only goal when Roman Starchenko scored midway through the session.

Hopes of a fightback were ultimately extinguished midway through the third period when a Kunlun power play went disastrously wrong. Patrice Cormier stole the puck on his own blue line and burst forward, keeping his feet despite a hook from Ville Lajunen. The Canadian failed to beat Lazushin but the subsequent scramble in front of the Red Star saw Akolzin stuff home his second of the game. Frustratingly, there were five shots before the puck went in; the team’s repeated inability to clear its lines proved a little too much for Veli-Matti Savinainen, who took a game misconduct penalty as he threw away his stick in anger.

There was one late moment of cheer with 10 minutes left when, still on that power play, Red Star got its offense together and pulled a goal back. Blake Parlett was the fulcrum of the Kunlun attack, combining with Justin Fontaine to press Barys back into its own end. Finally, the defenseman’s pass opened up a shooting lane for Fontaine to get the team on the scoreboard at last.

Next, we go to Khabarovsk to play our two remaining road games against Amur. Although the playoff race is over, there’s still plenty to play for as players look to prove that they can contribute to Curt Fraser’s plans for the coming campaign and play a part in moving Red Star up the table in 2019-20.

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Kunlun Red Star