The playoff dream is very much alive, despite frustration in Podolsk
Source: Club Press-Office
VITYAZ MOSCOW REGION 5 KUNLUN RED STAR 3
Defeat on Kunlun’s return to action after the international break should put a dampener on any Valentine’s Day celebrations – but the reality is that other results mean this loss does not hamper our progress towards the goal of bringing playoff hockey to Beijing.
Red Star’s three closest rivals for a top-eight finish – Admiral, Sibir and Neftekhimik – all lost their first games of the final week of regular season, meaning the chasing pack has made up little ground and has fewer opportunities to overtake our team.
Despite that reassurance, it’s hard not to be frustrated by the outcome. As Vityaz celebrated a historic victory and a place in the playoffs, it was hard to shake the feeling that it could have been us. Twice Kunlun led in the game, but was unable to establish a commanding advantage. Then, early in the third period, two goals came just 10 seconds apart to put Vityaz on the winning road.
We could hardly have asked for a better start. Less than three minutes in, Linus Videll fired Kunlun in front with a one-timer after Sean Collins slung the puck into the danger zone from wide on the left. Joy was short-lived; Vityaz levelled two minutes later through Miro Aaltonen’s power play goal.
The second period offered a repeat. A breakaway sent Alexei Ponikarovsky clear to make it 2-1 in the 27th minute, but a penalty moments later enabled Roman Horak to tie it up on the power play.
Then it all went wrong. Another penalty, another Horak goal, and Vityaz led for the first time on 42:28. Kunlun was back at full strength, but had no chance to capitalize. Tuukka Mantyla brought the puck out from behind his own net, only to be mugged by Alexander Pankov. The home forward had little difficulty in converting from close range with the defense absent, and in the space of 10 seconds our team had gone from level to chasing a two-goal deficit.
It was a crushing blow. But it wasn’t the end. Zach Yuen picked out Collins for a 51st-minute goal that kept the game very much alive, and Vladimir Yurzinov threw everything at Vityaz in the closing stages, withdrawing goalie Tomi Karhunen with more than two minutes to play. The gamble failed. Alexei Makeyev scored into the empty net to make the game safe for Vityaz.
As a result, we head on to Yaroslavl still searching for the points that will guarantee a playoff place to extend our rookie season in the KHL.
For Vityaz, meanwhile, victory in this game – coupled with Sochi’s defeat at CSKA – means that the Moscow Region team is heading to the KHL playoffs for the first time ever. As mentioned above, a historic moment. Our opponent, though, has contested every season since the league began in 2008-09, failing to qualify on eight separate occasions. That long road to success puts Kunlun’s debut season into context; less than a year after our team was formed, we are on the brink of achieving something that took almost a decade to manage in Podolsk.