Last-minute drama: Rau rescues a point for battling Kunlun
Source: Club Press-Office
KUNLUN RED STAR 3 DINAMO RIGA 4 (SO)
With just nine seconds to play, Kunlun completed a dramatic fightback to salvage something from a game that had long seemed lost. On 59:51, Chad Rau forced home his 19th goal of the season, reacting fastest after Martin Bakos’ shot rebounded back into the slot. Suddenly, a hopeless cause was fully recovered. From 0-3, Kunlun tied the game at 3-3 and added a valuable point to its tally – with the prospect of more to come in overtime.
It was a just reward for a team that refused to buckle despite an awful start to the game. Giving up three goals in 10 minutes was the worst possible opening to an encounter with an opponent that arrived off the back of a 5-0 thrashing in Khabarovsk. A fixture that looked like a home banker suddenly turned into a fierce battle to avoid a thrashing after goals from Oskars Cibulskis, Georgs Golovkovs and Gints Meija.
The second period saw Kunlun do everything but score: a 14-4 shot count only tells part of the story. Red Star dominated goal attempts (22-7), face-off wins (13-4) and even PIMs (a frustrated Jonas Enlund picking up an ejection for checking from behind). But Dinamo held on, with Jakub Sedlacek looking invincible in the visiting goal.
It all changed at the start of the first, when Bakos found the solution to Sedlacek’s skills. The Slovak forward has been in strong form of late, and this goal was his seventh point in six games. He exchanged passes with Tomi Sallinen, and when the Finn made an attempt on the wraparound, Bakos was on hand to fire the puck past Sedlacek from a tight angle.
Belief surged back into the team, and the crowd. Another power play, and another goal, this time from Tuukka Mantyla, ever reliable from the blue line. Now, 12 minutes from the hooter, there was all to play for.
With the job two-thirds done, Kunlun piled on the pressure in the face of adversity. Dinamo defended doggedly, the seconds ticked by. Into the final two minutes, with the home team unable to call a time-out (that disastrous flow of early goals was stemmed by a well-timed break from our bench), it was time to gamble. Tomi Karhunen skated to the bench, the sixth attacker joined the fray. Twice, home hearts were in mouths as Dinamo got a chance to shoot at the empty net; one went wide, the other was blocked in center ice. Then, at last, the big moment as Rau tied the game.
Overtime generated opportunities for both teams. Maris Bicevskis got through one-on-one with Karhunen, only for the Finn to make a big save. Then a penalty on Dinamo gave our guys a power play opportunity, only for the Latvians to stand firm and take the game to a shoot-out.
Finally, Dinamo managed to edge the verdict. The visitor converted all three of its attempts; Damien Fleury fired his effort high and wide. For all the courage of that fightback, Kunlun would have to settle for a solitary point. That point takes the total to 71 from 51 games. With nine more fixtures, Kunlun remains in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, two ahead of Admiral (beaten 3-5 at home to Dinamo Minsk today) and five clear of ninth-placed Neftekhimik. However, Avtomobilist could cut that advantage to just one point if it wins both its games in hand.
Due to a quirk of the fixtures as the league goes into a short break for the All-Star Game at the weekend, Kunlun has one solitary road game at Traktor Chelyabinsk on Thursday before returning to Beijing to play Slovan (Jan. 26) and Medvescak (Jan. 28). Those two games conclude the regular season home schedule … February’s hockey action could bring the playoffs to China for the first time ever.