Battling finale falls narrowly short
Source: Club Press-Office
AVTOMOBILIST YEKATERINBURG 4 KUNLUN RED STAR 3
The value of Kunlun’s impressive home form – we’ve lost just five games on Chinese ice so far this season – became all the more apparent after a difficult trip to Yekaterinburg.
A rousing third-period performance almost snatched an unlikely win as Avtomobilist’s 4-1 lead was slashed to a slender 4-3 advantage before the hooter saved the Motormen from crashing completely. But despite slipping to a second successive loss on the road, our team remains safely in a playoff spot thanks to the head start we managed to build up thanks to our strong performances in front of our fans. Those back-to-back wins over Sibir and Metallurg Novokuznetsk at the end of our last home stand gave us a small cushion over the chasing pack as the race for the top eight intensifies. And that cushion has already proved its worth as Red Star still has the edge in that race, even though two straight defeats have eroded that advantage.
Saturday’s game at Avtomobilist got away from Kunlun in the second period after a frustrating first 20 minutes saw us have more shots on goal but fail to turn that pressure into a lead. All too often at this level, a failure to score on the opposition results in the opposition scoring on you, and that’s how it proved in the second period as Artyom Gareyev and Rok Ticar shot the Motormen into a 2-0 lead.
Kunlun hit back with a neatly-worked goal that highlights once again the fluency of our top line forwards. Sean Collins played a wonderful, instinctive pass that sliced open Avto’s defense and found Chad Rau on the face-off spot. The American’s path to goal was blocked by defenseman and netminder, so he squared the puck to the unmarked Janne Jalasvaara between the hatchings and the Finnish D-man made no mistake to beat Vladimir Sokhatsky. With 12-and-a-half minutes left this one-goal game was very much alive.
Hope did not endure, though. Within a minute Avtomobilist had a two-goal advantage once again as Gareyev got his second of the game and before long the 24-year-old had completed his hat-trick. There was still time for a big fight-back that almost stunned the host. Sean Collins made it 2-4 on 56 minutes and, with 77 seconds left to play Martin Bakos got it back to a one-goal game with a close-range finish off a Brett Bellemore pass. Vladimir Yurzinov called a time-out and withdrew Andrei Makarov from the net in favor of a sixth forward, but Avtomobilist held out to sneak the win.
Defeat in the Urals makes the battle for the playoffs tighter than ever. Kunlun remains well-placed in seventh, with 48 points from 33 games. But there’s almost nothing between the chasing pack: Avtomobilist remains 11th, but has 44 points from 35 games. In between, Neftekhimik moves into eighth place with a win today at 10th-placed Sibir while Barys remains in ninth on 45 points. There’s little margin for error in this close-fought battle as our team prepares to visit Ugra on Monday.