Kunlun Red Star 4 Vityaz Moscow Region 5
It was a memorable day for two Red Star forwards. Sean Collins, in his second spell on the team, scored his first goal for the Dragons since Feb. 2017, while 18-year-old prospect Andrei Bakanov hit two goals in a KHL game for the first time. However, a stellar display from the visitor’s imports was enough to send the points to Podolsk after an entertaining encounter.
Sunday’s bigger picture was all about the Western playoff battle, with Vityaz desperately needing a win to stay ahead of Spartak and remain in the top eight. However, any fan coming into the arena would have struggled to say which team was fighting for its post season prospects in the first period. The Dragons stormed into action, taking the play to Vityaz from the very start and dominating the action. Red Star had 39 attempts on the visitor’s net in the opening frame, and forced 11 blocked shots out of the opposition as goalie Anton Todykov was under intense pressure. And all that, despite taking the only two penalties assessed in the first period.
However, while Kunlun controlled much of the play, Vityaz always looked dangerous on the counter. The combination between Justin Danforth and Mattias Tedenby has been productive all season and Jeremy Smith needed to be at his athletic best to stretch out a skate and close the door on the Swede after his team-mate played him through on goal. Soon after, the pair reversed their roles and Tedenby set up Danforth for the opening goal – a bitter blow after an enterprising start to the game.
But the response was immediate. Todykov was forced into a sprawling save to deny Spencer Foo after Tyler Wong’s delightful behind-the-back pass undressed the visiting defense. Then Collins tied the scores in the 17th minute. He went behind the net and, after being thwarted on the wraparound, collected a return pass from Ethan Werek to fire home.
That was Collins’ first goal for us since the 2017 playoffs. His previous marker, against Metallurg, came on Feb. 24, 2017. Sean, of course, rejoined our team during the current season and was an immediately popular addition to our ranks. Prior to today, he had five assists in 21 appearances; Sunday’s goal puts him alongside the likes of Wojtek Wolski, Gilbert Brule, Joonas Jarvinen and Sam Lofquist on the list of players to score for KRS in two separate spells with the organization. None of them, though, had a gap anywhere near the 1,445 days between Collins’ goals.
Unfortunately, penalty trouble undermined that encouraging first period. Late in the opening stanza, Collins was called for holding onto Svyatoslav Grebenshchikov. At the start of the second, Tedenby restored the Vityaz lead. Then, after a home power play saw Luke Lockheart twice denied by blocks from the visiting defense, the Dragons were left short-handed again and Danforth potted his second of the game.
Once again, though, adversity brought out the best in our guys. After killing yet another penalty, we rebounded with two goals in 37 seconds to draw level. Both goals came from the same, reshaped second line, where 13th forward Bakanov joined Slava Leshchenko and Alexei Toropchenko to form a deadly combination. Leshchenko made it 2-3, then Ryan Sproul set up the second, weaving a path through the defense to set up Bakanov at the back door after he had created a crucial few centimeters of clear ice away from Yegor Voronkov.
Late in the frame, Vityaz regained its lead in controversial circumstances. Jakub Jerabek thumped in a point shot which Smith gloved high into the air. As it dropped there were suspicions of a high stick from Zakhar Bardakov before the puck landed on the crossbar and was bundled home amid a scramble on the crease. A video review established that Bardakov’s raised stick did not play the puck, but the decision to award the goal prompted a bench challenge. Alexei Kovalev was concerned that Fyodor Malykhin impeded Smith in that goal-line scrummage. However, a second study of the footage did not change the officials’ verdict: the goal was awarded, with Jerabek taking the credit.
Frustration over that call might explain why, despite enjoying a power play at the start of the third period, we were unable to take advantage and instead fell further behind once Tedenby emerged from the box. The Swede got on the end of Danforth’s rush to get his second of the game and the fourth from that line. Not long after, the puck was in our net again but this time the officials whistled it off due to interference on Smith.
There was still hope of a fightback and with 11 minutes to play, Bakanov’s second of the afternoon made it a one-goal game once again. Leshchenko, who is clearly enjoying his status as the old hand on a line of on-loan prospects, set up his 18-year-old colleague and Bakanov manoeuvred into position between the hash marks before putting a wrister into the top corner.
That meant the game was very much alive going into the final minutes but, despite the Dragons’ efforts, a tying goal would not come. Not for the first time, a game with many positives ended in frustration.