Dragons finish with a win

26 February 2024

Kunlun Red Star 2 Vityaz Moscow Region 1 OT

At the end of a hard season, two of the Dragons’ longest-serving players secured a final-day victory over Vityaz. Despite trailing at the second intermission, our guys shrugged off the after-effects of yesterday’s battling win in St. Petersburg to take the game to overtime on a Brandon Yip goal. Then, in the extras, Luke Lockhart finished the job to ensure the 2023/24 campaign ended on a high note.


However, there is a sense of “what might have been” after a season where we ended up just one place away from the playoffs. It’s worth remembering how the early part of the season saw an incredibly congested schedule, which left our players drained and saw the injury list mount up. At one point, the guys had five games in seven days; not surprisingly, that formed part of a 10-game skid that wrecked hopes of achieving postseason.

To make matters worse, that busy schedule was intended to free up our Chinese internationals for Olympic qualification action in February. However, as things turned out, our players were not selected for that tournament, meaning there would have been time to spread the fixtures more evenly. Perhaps that could have made the difference?

Despite a challenging campaign, the Dragons ended on a high note. True, an overtime win over a Vityaz team marooned at the foot of the KHL standings lacked some of the drama and excitement we enjoyed 24 hours earlier in Petersburg. But a win is a win, and this was our 25th of the season. Strikingly, it was also our 10th out of 16 games that went to overtime or beyond: in previous years, we’ve struggled to win in the extras; this time, we’re a formidable proposition after the 60th minute.

However, we might not have needed the extras today were it not for some excellent goaltending from ex-Dragon Dmitry Shikin. Throughout the first 40 minutes, we created several great chances only for Dima to come up big time after time. At the other end, Matt Jurusik was also in great form, and his stop to deny Ivan Yezhov a short-handed goal in the second period was one of the plays of the game. Despite that, a goal late in the middle frame saw Vityaz break the deadlock.

Which is where experience kicks in. Midway through the third period, Yipper found the answer to Shikin, banging in a rebound after Ryan Merkley’s point shot thudded into the goalie’s pads.

That sent us to overtime, where Lockhart delivered the final goal of the season. It wasn’t the prettiest he’ll score, a shot that somehow squeezed through Shikin’s pads and trickled over the line before any defenseman could get back to cover. But it secured one last win for the season and, for the first time in franchise history, the Dragons won the final game of the regular season. Back in September, you may recall, we started with victory over Spartak in our first game of the campaign. Despite all the challenges that came in between, Luke was right to assess the campaign as both “promising” and “fun” in his post-game interview. However, he also admitted that another failure to make the playoffs was “disappointing”. Let’s use that disappointment to motivate us to get back to post season in 2025.

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