Justifying the hype – Karhunen comes up big to deny Ugra

Source: Club Press-Office

19.12.2016

KUNLUN RED STAR 3 UGRA KHANTY-MANSIYSK 2 (SO)

Prior to Monday’s game with Ugra, goalie Tomi Karhunen was in the news. That morning he was announced as the KHL’s goalie of the week following his exertions against Barys and Avtomobilist, while the previous evening he was listed among five players who caught the eye between the piping in recent weeks.

The account on KHL.ru spoke of Karhunen’s patience as a combination of injury and the form of Andrei Makarov kept the Finn out of the team and hailed his successful return to action in late November with a victory in Khanty-Mansiysk against today’s opponent. There was praise for his shoot-out save in Ufa to deny the prolific Linus Omark, while pundit Sergei Borisov picked him out as a technically skilled goalie who was ready to seize his chance.

All that attention has a habit of upsetting the more superstitious fans. Talk of tempting the fates often follows a raft of plaudits, no matter how well deserved, and when Ugra scored twice in the 19th minute here to take a 2-1 lead, it was easy to wish for a team that remained under the radar, quietly winning games.

No matter. Our Finnish goalie was not to be denied, and our unbeaten record in Beijing was not about to end. It took time – a last-gasp equalizer, overtime and a shoot-out – to put it right, but Karhunen came up big when it mattered, winning all three post-game duels as Damien Fleury converted his attempt to secure another win.

First, he saved from Evgeny Lapenkov, then he forced Pavel Varfolomeyev to shoot wide. Finally, he was equal to Konstantin Panov, a goalscorer in the first period. Karhunen’s ninth KHL appearance ended successfully; his second shoot-out of the season was flawless. The 27-year-old has lost just two of his games so far in this campaign.

The game was also notable for seeing another period of overtime. It took 38 games for Kunlun to finish tied in regulation – a 4-4 thriller in Ufa that ended with a Red Star victory in the shoot-out. Today, though, was the second time in succession that 60 minutes wasn’t enough to separate the teams, and the third in five games.

It was a close call: Tomi Sallinen snatched a dramatic equalizer with 28 seconds to play. The pressure was truly on; Kunlun was shorthanded as Linus Videll sat out a tripping penalty. Kunlun won back possession in the corner behind its own net and surged forward, regardless of its numerical disadvantage. The first phase broke down, Karhunen headed to the bench to release an extra forward, Tuukka Mantyla scrambled to keep the puck in the Ugra end and Janne Jalasvaara picked out a pass towards Sallinen. Suddenly, it was as if Red Star had the power play: the forward had conjured up a vital few centimeters of space to get a shot past Vladislav Fokin and make it 2-2.

Kunlun’s Finnish D-men, Jalasvaara and Mantyla, also featured in the opening goal of the evening, back in the seventh minute. Mantyla’s mighty shot from the point flew past Fokin to give us an early lead; Jalasvaara and Videll got the assists. But that was only the start of the day’s drama.

With the holiday period approaching, the win keeps Kunlun secure in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The team finishes its 2016 program with two more home games – and a return meeting with our first opponents in the KHL. Amur Khabarovsk comes to Beijing on Christmas Eve before Admiral Vladivostok returns to the Le Sports Center on December 29.