10 December 2021
Barys Nur-Sultan 7 Kunlun Red Star 4
Friday’s trip to Kazakhstan turned into the ‘game of two halves’ beloved of football cliché. The Dragons jumped into a 3-0 lead with some impressive play – and some unexpected scorers – inside the first 26 minutes. After that, though, Barys hit back to turn the game upside down and, eventually, secure a victory.
Red Star spent much of the first period on the power play, including a period of 5-on-3 play midway through the session. However, Barys was strong, both at even strength and on the PK. There was a sense of a missed opportunity as the session drew to a close, but that was immediately lifted in the 18th minute when Alex Riche opened the scoring. Our third line got everything right, with Cliff Pu and Josh Nicholls combining to find Riche, who had positioned himself perfectly on the doorstep for a close-range finish to bag his fourth career goal for our club.
Boosted by that goal, the Dragons continued to press, ending the first period on the power play and carrying that pressure over to the middle stanza. And that second session brought two more quick tallies – and two unusual goalscorers. First came Rudi Ying, who wrote his name in the history books back in February 2019 when he became the first Chinese born player to score in the KHL. This was a solo effort on a delayed penalty, with Ying grabbing a loose puck in our zone and charging down the ice. His run bisected two defensemen before he fired a shot that went through Joni Ortio’s defenses.
Next came Mikael Tam, with his first goal in the KHL in his 35th appearance for the Dragons. He joined the rush and got on the end of Pu’s pass for a composed finish. That’s no surprise for followers of our teams in the VHL down the years, where Tam has been a consistent scorer from the blue line. The 30-year-old’s chances in the first team have been somewhat limited, though, but a consistent run of games this season brought a deserved first goal in the KHL. The contributions of both Tam and Ying also highlight the value of the work going on throughout the KRS system: beyond the first team, there is an enormous effort in place developing talent for the future of Chinese hockey.
Sadly, the immediate future was to prove challenging. After powering into that three-goal lead the Dragons found things much tougher. Barys began to find its shooting range and managed to claw back its deficit. Yegor Petukhov started the fightback with a shorthanded goal, deflecting a Joe Morrow shot past Paris O’Brien. Then came two in two minutes as Roman Starchenko and Linden Vey tied the scores at 3-3. Next, Red Star had to kill a penalty as the pressure intensified. That task was completed but, just as it seemed our guys might make it to the refuge of the second intermission with the game still level, Jakob Lilja struck late in the middle frame to put his team in front. The Swede moved to three goals in two games after scoring twice in yesterday’s victory over Sochi and he was on the scoresheet again early in the third.
From 3-0 up to 3-5 down is the kind of reversal of fortunes that would silence most teams. But, as we’ve seen plenty of times this season, one thing Red Star has in abundance is character. Once again, the Dragons displayed a willingness to battle through any adversity. Ethan Werek pulled a goal back when Nikita Boyarkin gave up a big rebound from Tyler Wong’s point shot and suddenly the game was back in the balance.
However, after seizing control, Barys was in no mood to allow a second big fightback in one game. Further goals from Cody Kunyk and Matt Frattin took the home team clear and clinched a victory that lifts the Kazakhs into the playoff places in the East. Tam’s big day wasn’t done, though: in the closing stages he found himself handed an unexpected temporary transfer after Roman Savchenko dumped him onto the Barys bench after taking exception to Mikael’s hit. The home player was ejected from the game; Tam took a boarding minor and a major for fighting in the last significant incident of the day.