27 September 2019
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 3 Kunlun Red Star 4 SO
After losing three games at three of the Eastern Conference’s toughest opponents, it was high time for Red Star to end its travel sickness and get back to winning form. That task was accomplished – narrowly – thanks to a scoring flurry in the third period and a flawless show from goalie Jeremy Smith in the shoot-out.
Our goalie won all five of his duels to ensure that Tyler Wong’s slick finish on Konstantin Barulin was enough to bring home the win – and duly earned the applause from head coach Curt Fraser. “We’ve had difficult time scoring this year,” admitted the boss. “Fortunately, we’ve had great goaltending; it’s giving us a chance to win every night. Smithy at the end of the night had to win us this game and he came through.”
Perhaps the best of Smith’s post-game stops came immediately after Wong’s goal. Zack Mitchell came storming down the ice looking to tie it up immediately, only for Smith to slam a pad down in front of the puck and rob his opponent of a goal. Holding on to that hard-won lead was a game-breaker; now the momentum was ours and Neftekhimik began to sense that the result would soon follow.
It wasn’t always like that in an entertaining, up-and-down game. Luke Lockhart gave us an early lead, only for the host to respond almost immediately on its first power play of the night. That quick flurry was not followed up until the third period, despite some enterprising play from the Dragons as they shaded the goalless second session.
Then, though, the penalty curse struck again. Early in the third another home power play saw Stepan Zakharchuk smash home a slap shot from the circle to give Neftekhimik the lead.
In crisis situations, the big players step up. This time, it happened exactly like that. Wojtek Wolski went marauding down the right and slung the puck into the danger zone for captain Brandon Yip to find the top shelf. Less than 90 seconds later, a similar play saw Wolski seeking Yip again, only for the puck to drop perfectly on to Andrew Miller’s stick for a 3-2 lead. The visiting goal horn in Nizhnekamsk is the Soviet pop classic ‘Changes’; here we could see the game transformed before our eyes at dizzying pace.
That perestroika-era hit inspired some rapid rebuilding from the home team, with Pavel Poryadin quickly finding another equalizer and sending the game to overtime. Now, Smith stepped up. Another Neftekhimik power play piled on the pressure, with Zakharchuk peppering the goal at every opportunity. Poryadin fanned on a great chance out in front, a Zakharchuk blast presented a rebound that Marat Khairulling fired over and Red Star hung tough to get to a shoot-out and, eventually, a win.
Coach Fraser was satisfied with a good night’s work. “It was a very difficult game,” he said. “We needed to win and I thought out guys did a great job of getting better as the game went on. Then Smithy took care of business in the shoot-out.”
The Dragons stay in Tatarstan for the next game, Saturday’s trip to Ak Bars.