Kunlun Red Star 3 SKA St. Petersburg 4
For 40 minutes, this was pretty much a perfect game from the Dragons. After taking an early lead against SKA, our guys played sensible hockey, taking chances when they came and limiting the opportunities for the Army Men to hit back. During the second intermission, with a 3-0 lead and the prospect of a 5-on-3 power play to come at the start of the third, the optimism was palpable. It was all-too tempting to start looking up the league standings and seeing how the team might overtake Neftekhimik and close on Sochi as the season enters its final week.
However, as we demonstrated just two days ago in Ufa, hockey can change fast. That 3-0 lead evaporated and the game ended in heartbreak when SKA grabbed a winner 16 seconds from the hooter. That’s why this is a 60-minute game; not for the first time this season, we learned that lesson the hard way.
Red Star got off to a good start with an opening goal after three minutes. Jake Chelios thumped in a one-timer off Ivan Nikolishin’s feed and our old friend Magnus Hellberg gave up a big rebound. Gleb Shashkov duly took advantage to make it 1-0 from close range.
Subsequently, the game continued as something of a clash of styles. SKA was eager to fire in shots, while the Dragons favored a more measured build-up. The visiting defense had to stay alert to the threat we posed from the perimeter, with young Maxim Groshev twice making important blocks as Chelios and Andrej Sustr probed for further weak spots in the SKA zone. At the other end, Dmitry Shikin made a couple of smart stops to thwart Kirill Marchenko and preserve our lead.
Then, in the 16th minute, the Dragons struck again. Ethan Werek got the puck behind the net and his pass to the slot picked out Casey Wellman for a snipe placed over the shoulder on Hellberg’s stick side. Werek’s helper means he has picked up points in six of his last seven games.
A solid first period ended with another opportunity as Yaroslav Dyblenko took the first penalty of the game, but Red Star could not take advantage on either side of the intermission.
However, that did not greatly hamper our team’s progress. The second period saw SKA try to raise the tempo but the visitor struggled to seriously stretch Dmitry Shikin in our net. It wasn’t until the final moments of the frame that our goalie was called upon for a big save … and he pulled one out of the top drawer to deny Vladimir Tkachyov’s solo rush.
That preserved the three-goal lead that Spencer Foo gave us a few seconds earlier. Foozy, inspired by his three-point game in Ufa at the weekend, got straight into SKA faces after the Army Men won a draw at our net. Forcing the turnover, Spencer went racing down the ice and his precise, powerful shot left Hellberg motionless on his crease.
A three-goal lead felt pretty commanding, but early in the third SKA hit back with two goals in 30 seconds. Malte Stromwall got the first, then Marchenko made it a one-goal game when he put away the rebound from Arseny Brinkman’s shot.
Alexei Kovalev immediately called a time-out, looking to bring some composure back to the team. And, for a time it worked, with SKA unable to add to its score. Indeed, Ryan Sproul had a great chance at the other end denied by Hellberg when a fourth goal might have made the game safe. But then the visitor got its first power play of the game and Stromwall converted the chance to tie it up with four minutes to play.
Worse was to come. With just 16 seconds left, and the game seemingly destined for overtime, SKA launched one last attack and, to the home crowd’s horror, Marchenko grabbed his second of the game to condemn the Dragons to a last-gasp loss.
Two home games remain this season for Red Star. On Thursday, the Dragons take on Barys before wrapping up the 2020/21 campaign against Dynamo Moscow on Saturday.