It was all about the Eastern Conference on Wednesday as Ak Bars dropped a shoot-out verdict at home to Metallurg and lost ground on Avtomobilist in the race for top spot. Playoff chasing Neftekhimik suffered its ninth defeat in 11 games, while Traktor moved level with Red Star after an overtime victory at Torpedo.
The day’s big game lived up to its billing as these old rivals took it to overtime in dramatic circumstances. From the host’s quickfire double in the first period to Matt Ellison’s last-minute leveller, there was plenty of excitement before Maksim Matushkin secured a shoot-out victory for the visitor.
Two goals in 13 seconds saw Ak Bars take the early initiative in Kazan. First, Artyom Mikheyev got away from his defenseman and fired a shot into Vasily Koshechkin’s pads. Jiri Sekac got to the rebound but saw his attempt blocked and Mikheyev collected the loose puck to open the scoring at the second attempt. On the next shift, Justin Azevedo doubled the lead when he powered past Viktor Antipin and went one-on-one with the visiting goalie.
After that double act put Ak Bars in control, the second period saw the teams trade goals. Ivan Vereshchagin put Magnitka back in contention before Danis Zaripov scored against his former club to restore Kazan’s two-goal lead. Ak Bars might have added a fourth as the middle session drew to a close. The home team picked up the tempo and created several good chances with Rob Klinkhammer going closest when he fired a Vladimir Tkachyov pass against the underside of the bar.
Metallurg escaped from that when the video review confirmed that the puck did not cross the line, and the visitor looked to take advantage of that reprieve in the third period. Iiro Pakarinen reduced the deficit when he shot home a one-timer after Andrei Chibisov’s rush down the right. Then a last-minute goal from Matt Ellison snatched a tie for Magnitka when he stuffed home the rebound after Sergei Mozyakin’s attempt was saved.
Ak Bars killed a power play in overtime as neither team managed to find a winning goal. In the shoot-out, both teams’ forwards showed their skills as five of the nine attempts were converted. However, when Koshechkin denied Sekac, Ak Bars was out of chances and Matushkin’s effort proved to be the winner.
These teams both needed the points, but for contrasting reasons. Avtomobilist was looking to secure top spot in the East as Ak Bars closed in menacingly; Neftekhimik’s recent poor run left it in danger of falling behind Kunlun and Traktor in the race for a playoff place.
The visitor found itself absorbing pressure in the early exchanges but finished the first period 2-0 in front. Dan Sexton got the opener in the 14th minute – a memorable moment against a club where he played 201 games and contributed 170 (53+117) points. Nigel Dawes extended the lead four minutes later while Jakub Kovar was impressive in facing down a lively home offense.
The second period saw the home team continue to press but it wasn’t until the last seconds that Neftekhimik got its reward. Andrej Nestrasil’s power play goal finally beat Kovar and set up a tense finale. However, the visitor closed out the game in the third period as Kovar finished with 32 saves to secure a tight verdict and remain two points clear at the top of the Conference.
Teenage defenseman Ilya Karpukhin picked the perfect moment to score his first ever KHL goal – the 19-year-old potted an overtime winner for Traktor to finally see off Torpedo. The road win moves the Chelyabinsk team level on points with eighth-placed Kunlun Red Star. The host remains seventh, but is now 10 points clear of the chasing pack after taking this one to overtime.
Karpukhin settled the outcome 82 seconds into the extras, showing maturity beyond his years to pounce on a turnover in center ice and convert a high-pressure breakaway by beating Stanislav Galimov in a one-on-one duel.
Earlier, Christian Thomas got his third goal since joining Traktor to give the playoff chaser a first-period lead. The Olympic bronze medallist converted a power play chance late in the opening session.
In the second period, though, Traktor ran into penalty trouble of its own and Andy Miele tied the game on a 5-on-3 power play as the action reached the midway stage. In the third, Nick Bailen added to his assist on Thomas’s goal to restore Traktor’s lead in the 54thminute only for Robert Sabolic to salvage a point for Torpedo.