25 December 2021
Kunlun Red Star 4 Dinamo Minsk 6
There hasn’t been a lot of festive cheer in the Dragons’ camp. The team’s losing streak has, inevitably, put a damper on the mood. However, for this Christmas Eve encounter, Red Star donned red robes as Father Christmas himself popped up to give some support to the home team.
As a legendarily generous figure, the gift giver was in the right place. When these teams met in Minsk earlier in the season, we saw 11 goals. Today’s game produced 10 more with both defenses seemingly in open-handed mood.
The Dragons welcomed two players back to the team for the first time since late November. On defense, Jake Chelios returned to action after recovering from the injury that ruled him out since his goalscoring performance against Spartak on Nov. 25. Up front, Cory Kane made his first appearance since Nov. 28. Xiang Zedong and Chen Zimeng made way. Paris O’Brien returned to goaltending duties, hoping for a Scrooge-like display amid the festive generosity. He replaced Jeremy Smith, in need of a rest after another busy game 24 hours earlier.
The early stages saw Dinamo enjoy slightly the better of the play, but when the opening goal arrived midway through the first it summed up some of the misfortunes that have plagued our guys all season. Tyler Graovac benefitted from a kind bounce when Denis Mosalyov’s attempted shot was charged down, and was happy to accept the gift, angling his shot past O’Brien.
Subsequently, things improved. O’Brien twice faced down Malte Stromwall, first denying the Swede’s penalty shot then stoning him again when he engineered another one-on-one rush in open play. That lifted our guys, and a strong finish to the frame saw us into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead. Tyler Wong tied it up, converting our first power play of the night, then Ryan Sproul joined the rush to fire home the go-ahead goal. All of a sudden, one of the most magical nights of the year seemed that bit more special.
In the middle frame, we twice saw the teams trade quick goals. Dinamo tied it up, only for Spencer Foo to restore our lead within seconds. Parker Foo forced a turnover in our end and released his brother, who promptly showed Stromwall how to win a solo duel with a goaltender as he comprehensively beat Alexei Kolosov to record his 14th goal of the season.
Late in the frame, Mario Kempe’s short-handed goal for Dinamo suggested that the visitor had learned something from Spencer’s skills. Again, though, the response was swift: the Bison took another penalty and our captain Brandon Yip converted the 5-on-3 advantage to keep us on top going into the third. This was 200th KHL game for Yipper and he duly celebrated the milestone with goal and assist.
Unlike Dinamo, Kunlun had a game yesterday. And that lack of energy in the closing stages proved costly. Extending a good 40 minutes into a full 60 proved just beyond our guys. Graovac tied it up early in the frame, then the game-breaker came when our old boy Taylor Beck scored on the power play. Parker Foo was less than impressed with his tripping call when he arrived in the box, and judging by his reaction to Beck’s goal it’s fair to say the officials won’t be getting a Christmas card from him this year. Worse, there was to be no late Christmas bonus for our guys either: Roman Gorbunov’s empty net tally settled the outcome and brought our home stand to a frustrating finish.