Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 3 Kunlun Red Star 2
Kunlun embellished its highlight reel with two memorable markers, and only the width of the post denied the Dragons a last-gasp equalizer after a brave performance in Yaroslavl. Earlier in the season, Red Star claimed victory over Lokomotiv on paper when the Railwaymen could not raise a team for our game; tonight we met on the ice and came so close to taking something from this game as well.
Red Star looked to make a fast start to this game, and the opening stages certainly favored our guys. Early in the action, a three-on-one rush had the home defense scrambling to recover, but unfortunately Vojtech Mozik’s shot let Lokomotiv off that particular hook. Still, though, Kunlun continued to press. However, this came at price, as enterprising offense mingled with turnovers. It made for exciting watching, but made it hard to press home our early momentum. And the Railwaymen took their chance to punish us in the seventh minute when an odd-man rush came the other way and Anton Lander opened the scoring.
After the Dragons were blanked at Vityaz last time out, giving up the first goal was the last thing we needed. And, having already created some presentable chances here, it was particularly hard to bear. Happily, though, a response came swiftly: just a couple of minutes after Lander’s opener, Red Star tied it up with a beauty. It all started when Sergei Monakhov intercepted the puck in center ice and turned on the boosters to burn past Lander on his way to the goal line. With the home D expecting our man to fly around the back of the net, Monakhov surprised everyone with a pass to Anton Lazarev on the slot and, his instinctive one-timer went through Eddie Pasquale’s pads to tie the game. It’s another one of those plays you’ll want to see again and again as Anton potted his fifth goal of the season and his fourth in our colors.
Despite the big gap between the teams in the tournament standings, with Loko looking for a top three finish in the West while our playoff hopes sadly came to an end in the East this week, there was surprisingly little to choose between the teams. True, our host enjoyed far more time around our net – helped by the only power play of the first period – but we were leading the shot count with a direct, combative game.
However, in the second period the balance of power began to shift. Lokomotiv began getting far more pucks to the net and began to build the pressure on Jeremy Smith. A Red Star power play offered some respite – on another night, Ryan Sproul or Alexei Toropchenko might have converted their chances and changed the game – but it was indicative of the way the game went that as soon as the penalty was over, Lander leapt into the fray and went clean through on Smith only to shoot wide of the target. Soon after, Loko went back in front when a sublime diagonal feed from Andre Petersson was rifled home back Yegor Averin at the back door.
However, there were more great goals to come in the third, and Spencer Foo set us off by tying the scores at 2-2. If our first goal was a fantastic demonstration of an attacking partnership, this was all about individual mastery. When Foozie collected the puck from Sproul, there was most of the rink and most of the opposition between him and the net. But a turn of speed and some formidable stick-handling saw our man dance his way between the opposition before scoring past a bedazzled Pasquale. Once again, you’ll be putting this clip on heavy rotation.
With the scores tied we continued to threaten, and Ivan Nikolishin had a great chance to put us in front after Monakhov set him up in a shooting position. However, Pasquale made an athletic stop to deny us … and within seconds the game veered away from the team. It started with a penalty on Jake Chelios and ended 10 seconds later with Averin potting his second of the game on the power play. Petersson played the key pass once again.
But the Dragons still weren’t done. With 10 minutes left, our guys did everything possible to save the game and were millimeters away from forcing overtime. The closing stages saw us test Loko’s PK – playing 6-on-4 for a time after Smith returned to the bench – and even after the home team was back at full strength, the pressure continued. Had Lazarev’s last-second effort been a fraction below the crossbar instead of bouncing to safety, the game would have gone into the extras. However, on these fine margins battles are won and lost and, this time, we missed out by the narrowest margin of all.