Dragons climb the table

28 January 2024

HC Sochi 3 Kunlun Red Star 4 OT

Red Star moved off the foot of the Western Conference standings with a thrilling OT win over Sochi. The result puts us ahead of Vityaz and just one point behind today’s opponent, with a rematch set for Monday.

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This was a game that tested the Dragons’ character. A strong start saw our guys lead 3-0 before Sochi hit back to tie the game midway through the third period. At that point, we dug in and halted the home revival before Parker Foo potted the winner in overtime.

After Thursday’s defeat at home to Dynamo, Alexander Lazushin returned in goal. Other changes saw Brandon McMillan replace Alex Riche, while Jason Fram took over Kyle Wood’s place on defense.

McMillan’s return had a big impact on the outcome of the game. Brandon was instrumental in a strong start from our guys. Early in the game, he forced Nikita Bogdanov into a save after Teemu Pulkkinen set up a shot from the slot. Then, after we got our first power play of the afternoon, McMillan fired the puck to the danger zone for Luke Lockhart to steer it into the net.

Lockhart is something of a specialist where Sochi is concerned, having scored twice in our previous two meetings with the Leopards. Today he scored twice in the space of eight minutes, doubling our lead before the intermission.

Luke isn’t the only one of our players who likes playing Sochi. Brandon Yip also scored in our two previous meetings and he got our third goal today. Bogdanov was unsighted by the screen the Gemel Smith put up on the crease, and Yipper’s point shot found its way through. At that stage, the 3-0 lead was absolutely backed up by the pattern of play and it was hard to see a way back for the home team. However, Jesse Graham got Sochi on the scoreboard late in the second period, and that offered the Leopards something of a lifeline going into the third. In addition, a penalty on Parker Foo complicated things further as we paused for the second intermission.

The message for Red Star was surely to keep it tight early in the final stanza and get the clock playing for us. The first task went reasonably well: Sochi could not convert that power play at the start of the third. However, back at equal strength, our host got one back through Nikolai Chebykin. Buoyed by that success, Marat Khusnutdinov tied it up with 11 minutes to play. A game that seemed to be comfortably under our control was now in danger of slipping away.

That’s where resilience comes in. A red line was drawn, and the Dragons would not allow Sochi to cross it. The guys saw out the rest of the game and got ready for overtime, well aware that we’ve tended to do well in the extras this season.

Overtime was played in a single movement: from puck drop to winning goal, the teams went three minutes and 29 seconds without a pause. Maybe that introduced the fatigue that saw two Sochi players collide with one another after failing to read Jake Chelios’ neat feed to release Foo into the end zone. Parker saw the way to goal open before him and needed no second invitation, advancing on Bogdanov’s net to score the winner. McMillan, so effective early in the game, also picked up an assist here as the Dragons made it three wins from three over Sochi this season. Tomorrow, we’re going for four from four.

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