KRS Vanke Rays 4 SKIF Nizhny Novgorod 2 (2-0, 1-1, 1-1)
The Vanke Rays picked up yet another victory, making it four wins in a row and closing to within two points of Women’s Hockey League leader Agidel.
Back in October, our girls suffered their first defeat of the season when Valeriya Merkusheva produced a superb goaltending display to blank the Lady Dragons in Nizhny Novgorod. Since then, SKIF has remained one of the strongest teams in the league and arrived in Stupino looking for a victory that would take it to the top of the table.
Our visitor made a good start, creating the first clear scoring chance of the game after three minutes when Landysh Falyakova forced a good reaction save from Noora Raty. However, it wasn’t long before the Rays began to assert themselves. A home power play shifted the momentum before the first period reached its midway point and even though SKIF withstood that test, it wasn’t long before the breakthrough arrived.
Two goals in 16 seconds put the game firmly under our control. The first was a well-worked move, with Emily Costales going behind the net to set up Alex Carpenter for a close-range finish. Next came a defensive error when SKIF’s Elena Provorova got into trouble and a panicky pass went straight to Hannah Miller. The finish was ruthless, and KRS led 2-0. The visitor’s bright start was forgotten as the Dragons took control and allowed just four shots at Raty in the first period.
Inevitably, SKIF wanted a big start to the second period and got just that. Three minutes in, Ekaterina Smolina got clear of the home defense and halved the deficit with a shot to the top shelf. However, the Vanke Rays were in no mood to allow a fightback and almost immediately restored that two-goal cushion. The chance came on the power play and it took a mere 13 seconds to capitalize on the numerical advantage. Megan Bozek scored her seventh goal of the season, spotting a shooting lane through traffic and lifting the puck into the top corner. That moves Megan to the top of the list of goalscorers from the blue line, level with Anna Shibanova, Nina Pirogova and Maria Batalova.
By now, the game was more equal, even if the scoreline still strongly favored the home team. The third period followed a similar pattern to the second, with SKIF reducing the deficit early in the session. This time, it was a power play goal from Ekaterina Likhachyova, scorer of the only goal in our previous encounter, that kept the visitor in contention.
However, Bozek was on hand to ensure things did not get too anxious in the closing stages. With eight minutes left, her shot from the blue line was parried by Merkusheva and Costales reacted to tuck away the rebound and make it 4-2. It stayed that way until the end, with SKIF struggling to raise the tempo in the closing stages as the Rays’ defense closed out the win. One last save from Raty in the final second set the seal on another good result.
Tomorrow, the teams meet again in Stupino. Another KRS victory would lift the team to at least second place in the WHL standings and, if Dynamo Neva defeats Agidel, our girls could go top of the league for the first time this season. And that’s despite playing catch-up after a bunch of early-season fixtures had to be rearranged due to COVID outbreaks.