Attracting attention – another home win, another step closer to the playoffs

Source: Club Press-Office

17.12.2016

KUNLUN RED STAR 4 AVTOMOBILIST YEKATERINBURG 3 (OT)

On the day of Kunlun’s game with Avtomobilist, Xiaoyu Zhao, chairman of the board of founders, was quoted on Championat.com about the need to continue developing interest in hockey in China. As he congratulated the team on the progress it has made in five short months, he added that work had to continue, on and off the ice, to create an audience for the game. “We need to win games, to be competitive against the strongest opponents, even to fight sometimes,” he said. “That way, people will enjoy coming to our games.”

While those thoughts were appearing online in Moscow, Red Star was appearing on the ice in Beijing in a crucial clash with Avtomobilist. Victory offered the prospect of a nine-point cushion over ninth-placed Barys – a significant advantage as the playoff race enters a decisive phase.

It was one of those must-win games that Zhao was talking about – and it delivered plenty of action, strong competitive play from both sides and, not for the first time this season a little piece of hockey history here in Beijing.

Admittedly, today’s historic occasion was a relatively arcane one compared with the thrills of the club’s first goals and first victories. Nonetheless, a 3-3 tie in regulation meant that, following a rule change announced on Wednesday, Kunlun took part in the first ever period of three-on-three overtime in KHL history.

Like so many other historic ‘firsts’ for our club this season, it had a happy ending. Reducing the number of players on the ice is intended to give more space for teams to create scoring chances, and after two minutes of end-to-end play Chad Rau collected the rebound from his own shot, darted behind the net and scored on the wraparound for his second of the game and his 16th of the season.

If there was a disappointment from the game, though, it was that overtime was needed at all. Kunlun made a lively start, and was good value for a 10th-minute lead when Tomi Sallinen scooted round the net and pinged out a pass for Damien Fleury who, kneeling on the face-off spot, fired a one-timer into the roof of Vladimir Sohkatsky’s net. Then a quick-fire salvo early in the third period seemed to have set our guys on the road to victory. With the scores tied at 1-1 after two periods, Rau pounced on a loose puck in front of the Avtomobilist net to fire Kunlun ahead. Then, moments, later, Brett Bellemore and Alexei Ponikarovsky combined and the defenseman snuck out onto the slot to tuck away a deft backhand through Vladimir Sokhatsky’s five-hole. A 3-1 lead, 15 minutes to play – things looked good.

It took a moment of misfortune to allow Avto back into the game. Gareyev, whose second period goal had already pegged Red Star back once that evening, swung the puck hopefully across the face of Tomi Karhunen’s net in the 54th minute. There was little danger from the visiting forwards, but the outstretched arm of a Kunlun D-man deflected the disc past the goalie and into the net. It was a helping hand that Avtomobilist was to grasp firmly: two-and-a-half minutes later, Gareyev tied the scores, completing his hat-trick from a tight angle.

There were more thrills and spills to come late on: Karhunen made a sprawling stop to deny the marauding Evgeny Chesalin with 90 seconds left and the final play of regulation saw Kunlun denied when the Avtomobilist net came off its moorings. But there was no denying our team in overtime, and the two points banked today move us up to 61, consolidating our grip on sixth place ahead of another home game on Monday when Ugra comes to Beijing.