Thursday’s games looked easy enough to predict: Avangard, second top in the East, travelled to Spartak, second bottom in the West, while Lokomotiv (one loss in five) entertained Neftekhimik (four wins in five). But the formbook was turned on its head in both instances, with Alexander Avtsin’s goal giving Neftekhimik the verdict in Yaroslavl and Ryan Stoa’s double bringing delight to Moscow.
Neftekhimik avenged last week’s 3-1 home loss against Lokomotiv with this victory in Yaroslavl.
The winning goal came with five to play when Alexander Avtsin potted his third in three games to settle the outcome. It was a tribute to a strong forecheck, with Neftekhimik harrying Lokomotiv deep in the host’s zone. Eventually, Andrej Nestrasil forced the turnover and set up Avtsin for a two-touch finish from the edge of the face-off circle.
The emergence of Avtsin as a scoring threat – the 26-year-old is on a run of five goals in six games – has been timely for Neftekhimik after injury denied Andrei Nazarov’s team the services of more celebrated forwards Dan Sexton and Chad Rau. And Neftekhimik’s resources were further stretched in the 16th minute when Ildar Shiksatdarov was ejected from the game after tangling with an official.
At the time, the game was tied at 1-1: Pavel Zdunov had given the visitor the lead after 30 seconds, but Pavel Koledov equalized off a Dmitry Lugin feed on 7:23. Lokomotiv went on to have the better of the attacking play but failed to create a game-winning chance and lost out to that late Avtsin strike.
Avangard, second in the Eastern Conference, travelled to Spartak, second bottom in the West. But the game proved much tighter than the league standings might suggest.
Initially, everything went according to the form book. Avangard bossed the early exchanges and opened a 2-0 lead in the first period. Evgeny Medvedev opened the scoring in the sixth minute, beating Markus Svensson after he was played into space by Alexander Perezhogin. The second came on a delayed penalty with Avangard camping in the Spartak zone and getting the break when Jonas Ahnelov’s shot was pushed back onto the stick of Dennis Everberg for a close-range finish.
But the middle stanza reversed the play completely. Where Avangard had dominated, Spartak found the edge; where the visitor had led, the host drew level. Igor Mirnov got the 2-1 goal, then a power play chance saw Lukas Radil orchestrate the Spartak offense, culminating in a close-range finish for Ryan Stoa.
The game was decided late on, and that man Stoa got the winner for the home team. Avangard took a penalty deep into the third period, Spartak scented the chance to snap its five-game losing streak, and piled on the pressure. Even so, the visitor was within four seconds of killing the penalty when Stoa found a shooting lane from the right-hand face-off spot and beat Dominik Furch to spark huge celebrations in Moscow.