Dragonfire too hot for defending champ

20 September 2022

Kunlun Red Star 2 CSKA Moscow 1 OT

A sensational team performance earned the Dragons a spectacular result against the current Gagarin Cup holder. Sixty minutes of rock solid effort kept CSKA at bay, then 10 seconds into the extras Zac Leslie snatched an overtime winner. As a result, for the second season running, we defeated the Muscovites by a 2-1 scoreline. That’s a habit we could get to enjoy.

There were heroes all over the ice today. Jeremy Smith was his usual impressive presence between the piping, making 44 saves as our guys faced intense CSKA pressure. In front of him, the defending was resolute and fearless – 32 blocked shots in 60 minutes tells its own story. But this wasn’t just a defensive master class: when the opportunity arose, Red Star showed it can generate offense as well.

Today’s game saw three Olympians make their first appearances of the season. Ty Schultz, recently returned to the club, was involved. In addition, we had two Chinese-born players, Chen Zemeng and Zhang Zesen getting their first action of 2022/23. The trio was used sparingly in a difficult game for players not fully up to game fitness, but it was great to see homegrown talent on the ice in one of the most memorable victories in our history.

While the team deserves every plaudit that comes its way after this honest, hardworking and courageous display, we would have to admit there was an element of fortune about our opening goal. Ryan Sproul, who got an assist in his first game of the season, went one better here when he was credited with the opening goal. His powerful point shot thundered into the boards behind Adam Reideborn’s net, then ricocheted off the helpless goalie’s back and into the net. A slice of good fortune? Maybe, but somebody in this game once observed that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

And there was nothing fortunate about our defensive effort, which kept CSKA’s powerful offense at bay until early in the third period. Indeed, the second session saw some presentable chances for our guys as the visitor, in chasing the game, allowed itself to be stretched on occasion. Early in the second, Jack Rodewald had a shooting chance closed down by Nikita Nesterov, then Tyler Wong fed Rodewald for a dangerous shot that Reideborn did well to save. Later, Devin Brosseau and Cory Kane’s odd-man rush forced the Swede into another good stop.

At the start of the third frame, though, the defending champion managed to tie the game. It was third time lucky for CSKA’s power play, and Maxim Mamin converted the rebound from a Darren Dietz shot. A lesser team might have folded after that disappointment, but our guys rolled with the punch and continued battling until the end.

A tie at 60 minutes earned a welcome point – but there was more to come in the extras. Red Star won the opening face-off, the puck broke for Zac Leslie, and our D-man decided to see what might be on offer. CSKA’s players backed off, inviting him to advance, and by the time they recognized the danger it was too late. Leslie was on the face-off spot, in shooting range and ready to pull the trigger on a game-winner that will be remembered for some time to come.

Defeating one of the KHL’s top clubs moves KRS to within two points of the top eight. Our next game sees undefeated league leader SKA come to town. Tonight, we saw one opponent leave with a dent in its reputation; can it happen again on Thursday?

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Kunlun Red Star