16 October 2020
Kunlun Red Star 5 Salavat Yulaev Ufa 3
Finally! For the last couple of weeks, close followers of our team have noticed a steady improvement in performances. Up to now, that has not been accompanied by the results we deserved but today, at the 15th attempt, the Dragons recorded a victory on the ice.
The visit of Salavat Yulaev brought another raft of changes on the roster. There was good news, with Trevor Murphy, Jake Chelios and Danny Kristo returning after illness. American forward Kristo was straight into the top line alongside Casey Wellman and Hunter Shinkaruk. Murphy, last season’s leading scorer on defense, was paired with Jason Fram, while Chelios went on the second pairing with Sam Lofquist. And Alexei Toropchenko returned to action after serving a three-game ban for his foul on Dynamo’s Vladimir Bryukvin at the end of his Red Star debut. Three of the returning players were destined to have a big role in setting up our first victory of the season, with goals for Shinkaruk and Chelios plus a Murphy assist on the winner.
It’s not long since these teams met here. On the previous occasion, a Red Star roster reinforced with new players blazed into an early lead and battle Ufa all the way before losing in a shoot-out. Today, our visitor was eager to show that it had learned from the experience. The very first shift saw a more than presentable shooting chance for Philip Larsen, but Simon Hrubec kept the scoreboard quiet. At the other end, Wellman went close to his first goal for the club only to shoot into Juha Metsola’s chest.
However, Salavat Yulaev was the stronger in the early stages and got in front in the eighth minute when Dmitry Kugryshev finished off a 2-on-1 rush. The next shift doubled our trouble, with Danil Bashkirov potting his first goal in the KHL.
If we couldn’t find a fast start in the first period, the Dragons got it right in the second. Wellman went close, recovered the puck and recycled play to Lofquist at the point. His slap shot clipped Hunter Shinkaruk on its way into the net and Red Star had a lifeline. Another chance soon arrived: Kugryshev’s evening ended early when his hit on Viktor Baldayev was ruled dangerously high. The opening goalscorer left the game, but Kunlun struggled to turn the major penalty into goals.
However, we did get used to having control of the puck and that helped to make for a more evenly contested game. Even the departure of Hrubec did not greatly disrupt our progress, with Dmitry Shikin coming off the bench and putting in a great shift. At the other end, Sergei Monakhov had a good chance but was denied by Metsola on the crease. The pressure paid off late in the second period when Chelios celebrated his return to the action by roasting home a point shot.
An early goal from Teemu Hartikainen in the third put Ufa ahead again, but the response was instant. Kristo, who scored twice on his Red Star debut, found the net on his return to the team when he forced the puck home amid crowded scenes on the Salavat Yulaev crease.
And the final frame just got better and better: Luke Lockhart put us ahead for the first time in the 52nd minute, squeezing home an angled shot as Andrei Bakanov screened Metsola in the Ufa net. The visitor tried everything to get back into the game but, without the influential Kugryshev, the offense lacked its usual sparkle. Cory Kane got the decisive blow in the last minute; our alternate captain didn’t manage to score in the empty net but was awarded the goal after he was fouled by the last defenseman. The final hooter brought jubilant scenes as our guys got to celebrate that winning feeling – and proved a point to some of the club’s critics in recent weeks.