Two teams in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race served up a thrilling battle in Russia’s Far East, with Admiral securing a vital victory in the closing stages of a high-scoring game.
The encounter entered its decisive phase in the 54th minute when James Wright struck on the power play to make it 6-4 to the home team. It was the third time that Admiral had enjoyed a two-goal lead, but Neftekhimik had shown plenty of resilience up to now and demonstrated more of the same to claw back to 5-6 when Geoffrey Kinrade converted another power play two-and-a-half minutes later. The outcome remained in the balance until the very last, when Dmitry Sayustov’s empty net goal finally clinched the win for Admiral.
It should have been more comfortable for the home team after opening a 3-1 lead in the first period. Defenseman Anton Volchenkov scored his first goal for Admiral – a short-handed strike – to open the scoring in the ninth minute. Konstantin Makarov tied it up off a great assist from Gennady Stolyarov behind the net, but Pavel Makarenko and Dmitry Lugin responded to put Admiral well on top.
Neftekhimik, and Richard Gynge in particular, had other ideas. The Swede scored twice in the second period, and Makarov got his second of the game to wipe out that lead, while Robert Sabolic struck at the other end to make it 4-4. But there was a crucial twist to come late in the stanza when 21-year-old Vladimir Tkachyov pounced for his 12th of the season, adding to two earlier assists and giving Admiral a slender advantage to take into the third. The 5-4 scoreline held until the closing minutes before the host made sure of ending its four-game losing streak.
Neftekhimik’s defeat keeps the team in eighth place, now three points adrift of seventh-placed Admiral. But it also highlights the team’s high-scoring form of late. In the past month, starting with a 5-2 victory at home to Lada on November 18, Andrei Nazarov’s team has scored five or more in seven games. However, today’s game was also the second time in December that Neftekhimik has been involved in a game with more than 10 goals, suggesting reasons for concern on defense.
Kunlun Red Star 4 Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg 3 (OT)
Artyom Gareyev scored a hat-trick for Avtomobilist to set up the first ever period of 3-on-3 overtime in the KHL’s history – but he still finished on the losing side.
The 24-year-old struck twice in the closing minutes to wipe out a 1-3 deficit and tie the game with five minutes to play, having earlier scored a 28th-minute goal to cancel out Damien Fleury’s first-period opener for Kunlun.
Admittedly he rode his luck to claim one of them: a 54th-minute attempt to swing the puck into the danger zone paid off unexpectedly when the outstretched hand of a Kunlun defenseman turned it into Tomi Karhunen’s net. Then, in the 56th minute, Gareyev lifted the puck over the Finnish goalie from a tight angle to tie the game.
The new format of overtime is intended to create more space on the ice for attacking players to do their thing, and on this occasion it seemed to work as both sides created opportunities to win it. But the decisive goal went to Kunlun’s Chad Rau on 62:15. The American claimed his second of the game and his 16th of the season to move sixth-placed Red Star on to 61 points, eight clear of ninth-placed Barys.
Earlier it looked like Red Star’s two-goal salvo early in the third would be enough to win it in regulation. With the scores tied a 1-1, Rau reacted fastest to a loose puck in front of the net to give Kunlun the lead. Then, moments later, Bellemore made it 3-1 with a neat backhand through Vladimir Sokhatsky’s five-hole off Alexei Ponikarovsky’s pass. But Gareyev’s intervention proved enough to earn his team a point, and a footnote in KHL history.