A last-minute equalizer, a goal disallowed in overtime and a first shoot-out win of the season. After all that, it’s just as well we get a bit of a holiday for New Year! The Dragons ended 2020 on a high after deservedly snatching a thrilling win over Avangard and spoiling Ilya Kovalchuk’s return to the KHL.
Kovi’s contract with the Hawks, announced on Dec. 26, was the big story of the trade deadline. But his debut ended in defeat when Jeremy Smith denied him in the shoot-out and finally secured the win for our guys.
The action was unrelenting from the start. In the first few minutes, Smith took a shot from Denis Zernov straight in the helmet but protected his net. Moments later, he was celebrating as Ethan Werek opened the scoring after he pounced on a loose puck in the Avangard zone and beating our old friend Simon Hrubec. There were more chances as our pressure forced the home defense into errors: Anton Lazarev chased down a misplaced pass and set up Ryan Sproul for a shot that flashed narrowly wide. However, the next goal came at the other end when Alexei Bereglazov launched a counter-attack and Reid Boucher finished off a short-handed goal to tie us up at the intermission.
At the start of the second period, the Dragons went back in front and Lazarev hit the net for the second game in a row. Sproul’s point shot was too hot for Hrubec and the home defense generously allowed both Lazarev and Sergei Monakhov the freedom of the slot as the rebound came out.
Then came Kovalchuk’s big moment. The Olympic and World Champion reminded everyone that big name players have a habit of scoring big goals. Late in the second period, with the game drifting away from the home team, he conjured a tying goal that shifted the momentum on the ice. Kovalchuk magicked the puck away from Ruslan Pedan in our zone and sent a low shot through traffic to beat Smith. And, just 40 seconds later, Avangard went ahead for the first time. Alexei Emelin’s point shot was batted down by Pavel Dedunov and the forward was quickest to react to the rebound. The Dragons’ bench questioned a possible high stick on Dedunov’s initial contact, but the video review went against us and Avangard led 3-2.
The third period saw Avangard kill two penalties, maintaining its impressive record over surviving more than 90% of its short-handed spells this season. That’s not to say that the Dragons did not have chances to save the game: only the width of the crossbar saved Hrubec when Gleb Shashkov’s one timer beat the keeper. But it wasn’t until the last minute that Red Star found the goal that took us to overtime. Sproul was the scorer, punching in yet another effort from his preferred shooting zone just beyond the top of the right-hand circle. You’d think it was nothing that Hrubec hadn’t seen before, but at the end of a long evening, with traffic circulating in front of him, the goalie was unable to react in time and the scores were level with 35 seconds left to play. That was almost enough to grab a winner, as Lazarev, a constant threat throughout the game, tested Hrubec’s reactions in the last second of regulation.
In overtime, Avangard killed another penalty before Lazarev – who else? – got the puck in the net once again. This time he deflected a Vojtech Mozik feed home with his knee, but a video review ruled that there was a kicking motion, and the goal was disallowed. The home team continued to ride its luck, with Slava Leshchenko hitting the bar from the next attack, and our game went to a shoot-out for the third time this season.
In that shoot-out, Tyler Wong and Hunter Shinkaruk had the beating of Hrubec as Red Star won in the extras for the first time this season. It was also a first win over Avangard in four attempts this term and means the year ends with back-to-back victories. See you in 2021!