Clinical finishing makes the difference

24 February 2023

Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 7 Kunlun Red Star 0

For most observers, this game was all about whether Neftekhimik could secure its playoff spot. The Wolves needed one more victory to ensure that Traktor could no longer sneak into eighth place in the east. The Dragons had nothing much to play for in terms of the KHL season, but that hardly made today’s game irrelevant. First, professional pride demands a committed display every time we get on the ice. Moreover, today we owed something to Traktor and the integrity of the competition to do everything possible to pose questions of Neftekhimik.

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On top of that, our guys are continuing their World Championship preparations. Greg Ireland once again sent out a team that gave plenty of scope for our home-grown players to show what they could do while gaining valuable ice time. That meant another start for Sun Zehao in goal, and prominent roles for the likes of Zhang Zesen and Yan Ruinan.

Zhang, in particular, was active in the early stages. He tested Andrei Tikhomirov early in the game, then hit the post in an evenly-matched opening frame. Yan also gave Tikhomirov some work to do, while at the other end Sunny produced a fine save. Our goalie flung himself across his crease to deny Rafael Bikmullin at the back door and keep the game goalless through the first period.

At that point, Traktor could have no complaints about the way the Dragons defended its playoff hopes. However, in the third period, Neftekhimik raised its game. Ansel Galimov opened the scoring in the 21st minute and Pavel Poryadin doubled the lead in the 24th. It was a double blow that proved too much for Red Star. Midway through the session, Bikmullin got the tally he was denied in the opening frame and from then on, there was only one winner.

That didn’t stop us battling. Colin Campbell carved out a decent chance for Jason Fram to get a shorthanded goal, then late in the second the Dragons got on the power play and had a couple more good looks at Tikhomirov without being able to find the net.

For much of the game, both teams maintained good discipline and trips to the box were few and far between. However, when Jake Chelios took a double minor for high sticks, Neftekhimik was able to take advantage with a power play goal from Vladislav Leontyev. Then, not long after Chelios served his second penalty, Yegor Popov made it 5-0.

Further tallies from former Dragon Vyacheslav Leshchenko and home forward Andrei Belozyorov gave the final score a flattering look for Neftekhimik. On the balance of play, this was far from a one-sided game, but the Wolves proved ruthless in front of goal and made the most of their chances to seal their playoff spot.

Now there is just one game left for us this season when we travel to Sochi. After winning four of our five games against the league’s basement club, it’s a great chance to wrap up with a win before we go into the summer.

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