Battling Kunlun just misses out against Avangard

Source: Club Press-Office



For two periods out of three, Kunlun Red Star proved to be a match for a powerful Avangard team. For the middle period, when the game got away from the host in the face of three unanswered goals, there was another step on the learning curve as Vladimir Yurzinov’s fledgling squad continues to develop the skills and know-how to compete with the top teams in Eurasia.

Avangard arrived in China with a big reputation. The Hawks of Omsk have hit the heights in the Chernyshov Division this season, battling Salavat Yulaev for the overall lead in the section. A roster stacked with talent, from Czech international goalie Dominik Furch to in-form forward Anton Burdasov, would pose a test for any team in the KHL. For Kunlun, it was another valuable opportunity to see how, with almost half of the season gone, the gap to the top teams is narrowing.

The home team wasted no time in sounding a warning to its illustrious visitor. Inside three minutes Igor Velichkin opened the scoring with his first goal of the season. Alexei Ponikarovsky found the 29-year-old forward on the point. Two strides toward the centre and a powerful shot was all it took to leave Furch grasping at thin air and give Kunlun the lead.

But then the visitor bared its teeth. Burdasov scored for the fourth game running to tie it up in the 10th minute as Avangard threatened to dominate the game, but Andrei Makarov was in inspired form in the Chinese net to send the teams into the intermission at 1-1.

Not even Makarov’s heroics could help much in the middle stanza, though, as Avangard demonstrated the kind of clinical finishing that has had them near the top of the table throughout the season. Two goals in 21 seconds from Yegor Martynov and Ilya Mikeyev gave the visitor a commanding lead; Vladimir Sobotka made it 4-1 just before the hooter, and Kunlun faced a huge challenge in the final stanza.

In crisis, though, there lurks opportunity. Our team has worked hard on making itself a tough opponent for any team, regardless of status or previous achievements in the game. Just last month Kunlun found itself 0-4 down at Neftekhimik, and managed to drag the game back to 3-4 in a frantic finale. This time proved similar as a big rally in the third period that left the high-flying Hawks keeping an anxious watch on their tail-feathers.

Chad Rau, ever reliable, got a goal back early in the final period, pouncing from close range after Sean Collins and Janne Jalasvaara fashioned an opportunity on the slot just as Avangard was returning to full strength. Rau’s 10th of the season gave the home team belief in a third period that ebbed and flowed, with both sides aware that the next goal could well prove crucial in determining the destiny of the encounter. Red Star got it, eventually, in the 59th minute, when Brett Bellemore was first to react to the rebound from Tobias Viklund’s shot. The D-man fired home from the right-hand face-off spot, giving Kunlun 70 seconds to save the game.

Goalie Andrei Makarov sat out those final moments as Kunlun tried everything to force overtime. Chances came and went, but Furch and his defense proved strong enough to resist for those remaining seconds. A narrow defeat, but no disgrace against one of the Eastern Conference’s perennial powerhouses.

Despite the disappointment of defeat, our team has a chance to recover fast. Thursday brings Metallurg Novokuznetsk to Shanghai for the second encounter of this three-game home series.