Kunlun Red Star 1 Jokerit Helsinki 2
Dmitry Shikin produced another huge goaltending performance, making 42 saves to stretch Jokerit’s offense. That, combined with Ethan Werek’s 14th goal of the season meant that this game was competitive until the very end – but ultimately it finished with another narrow loss.
Our visitor had a point to prove after losing its two previous games badly against Metallurg and Dynamo. Back-to-back 1-5 losses are hardly what a playoff-chasing team is looking for and Jokerit started with a view to taking out its frustrations on us. However, the first period saw the Dragons add to that angst. True, our offense was rarely visible, but when we did get forward we made it count. And Werek scored the only goal of the session when he circled into the center of the Jokerit zone and fired past Samuel Jukuri after first collecting the rebound from his own shot.
At the other end, Shikin was magnificent, stopping 16 shots to preserve our lead and increase the worries on the Jokerit bench. However, Red Star had its own problems when Anton Lazarev had to leave the game following a collision by the boards. Our forward was unable to return in this game and we await news of his progress ahead of Sunday’s clash with Vityaz.
Early in the second period, Shikin pulled off another big save, springing into action to thwart Henri Ikonen. And Red Star was so close to going 2-0 up when Luke Lockhart hit the post and Alexei Toropchenko’s close-range follow-up missed the mark. Midway through the game, though, Jokerit finally got one past Shikin. Our goalie padded away a David Sklenicka shot but the defense was stretched and Markus Hannikainen had the space to control the loose puck and lift it over our goalie.
The third period saw our offense produce more than in the previous two but as a team, we were still having a hard time living with Jokerit. Shikin kept making the big saves, and our defense worked hard to block shots and try to keep the visiting forwards at arm’s length. In the end, though, the pressure was too great. A power play in the closing stages opened the space for Brian O’Neill – a cult figure among Finnish fans – to find a path through our defenses and beat Shikin for the decisive goal. Soon after, only the frame of the goal saved us from another: the crossbar kept us in contention until the very end.
There was still time for one last push: Slava Leshchenko and Sami Lepisto found themselves in the sin bin late in the game, Alexei Kovalev called a time out and we finished the action with Shikin on the sidelines as we deployed five skaters against a four-man defense. However, there was still no way through as we fell to an eighth successive loss.
Next up, the Dragons are at home again on Sunday when playoff chasing Vityaz comes to town. Last week, we lost 0-3 in Podolsk, so our weekend meeting is an ideal chance to get some revenge for that defeat and lift everyone’s spirits before a busy final stretch brings the regular season to an end.