Andy Potts Andy Potts
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The 2018 KHL program came to an end with another exciting round of games. Pride of place went to Avangard, which recovered from 0-3 to defeat Barys in a shoot-out. Dinamo Riga and Dynamo Moscow traded nine goals, with the Latvians coming out on top. There were narrow wins for league leader CSKA and defending champion Ak Bars, while Kunlun Red Star revitalized its playoff hopes with a 2-0 win at Traktor to cut the gap to eighth place to just two points in the East.

Kunlun reignites its playoff push

Traktor Chelyabinsk 0 Kunlun Red Star 2 (0-0, 0-1, 0-1)

Red Star ended 2018 by snapping a five-game losing streak and moving to within two points of Traktor in the race for eighth place. The visitor was unable to hand a debut to deadline day signing Drew Shore – a delayed with his paperwork prevented him from appearing in Chelyabinsk – but still made a good start to the game.

However, it wasn’t until late in the second period that Red Star got in front through Ville Lajunen’s ninth goal of the season. Moments later Wojtek Wolski had the puck in the Traktor net but his effort was ruled out due to interference on home goalie Vasily Demchenko. The host could not take advantage of that reprieve, though, and Patrik Lundh’s empty net goal made it safe for Red Star. Goalie Alexander Lazushin’s fifth shut-out of the season matches his career best with Dynamo Moscow four seasons ago.

Defending champion edges Tatarstan derby

Ak Bars Kazan 1 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 0 (0-0, 0-0, 1-0)

Ak Bars snapped a three-game losing streak to collect its third victory of the season in the Tatarstan derby. However, the defending champion had to dig deep to get past a stubborn Neftekhimik team determined to reignite its push for a playoff place.

Photo: 30.12.18. KHL Championship 2018-2019. Ak Bars (Kazan) - Neftekhimik (Nizhnekamsk)

Neither team had much form coming into the game. The host had suffered losses at Dinamo Minsk, HC Sochi and CSKA in its previous outings, while the visitor had lost seven in a row since defeating Sochi on December 10. It added up to a first period of few chances.

The middle frame was livelier but it wasn’t until the 46th minute that the home team opened the scoring through Alexei Potapov. Neftekhimik might have snatched an equalizer whenAndrej Nestrasil got into a great scoring position but failed to beat Vladislav Podyapolsky. The home goalie secured his fourth shut-out of the season.

Spartak snatches shoot-out success

HC Sochi 1 Spartak Moscow 2 SO (1-0, 0-1, 0-0, 0-0, 0-1)

Spartak returned to fifth place in the Western Conference thanks to a victory on the Black Sea coast, recovering after back-to-back losses on its final road trip of the year.

Sochi, though, had the better of the opening exchanges and took a deserved lead, albeit in an unexpected manner. A penalty on Eric O’Dell left the host short handed, but Vadim Khlopotov released Dmitry Arkhipov for the first goal of the game in the 17th minute.

Spartak tied it up midway through the second period thanks to Artyom Fyodorov. That was a just reward for a power play display after the intermission but neither team could force a winner in the remaining 35 minutes of action. Instead it went to a shoot-out before Kaspars Daugavins claimed the decisive shot.

Avangard’s New Year special

Avangard Omsk 4 Barys Astana 3 SO (0-2, 0-1, 3-0, 0-0, 1-0)

This battle at the top of the Chernyshev Division produced a thriller in Balashikha, with Avangard clawing back a three-goal deficit to win in a shoot-out.

Photo: 30.12.18. KHL Championship 2018-2019. Avangard (Omsk) - Barys (Astana)

Everything was going the visitor’s way early on. Dmitry Shevchenko scored twice in 90 seconds in the first period to open a handy lead and Andre Petersson added a power play goal against his former club as the second session approached the midway point. Avangard did get the puck in the net, but it was ruled out for goalie interference.

The last 10 minutes changed everything. Alexei Emelin got the home team on the scoreboard at last and a power play in the 57thminute saw Avangard withdraw goalie Ivan Nalimov to play 6-on-4, getting its reward thanks to Kirill Petrov. Late in the game, Nalimov went back to the bench once again and the extra skater helped Evgeny Medvedev to tie it up in the 59th minute. Overtime could not separate the teams, but Ilya Mikheyev settled it for the home team in the shoot-out.

Enroth blanks Loko, Minsk ends the year on a high

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 0 Dinamo Minsk 3 (0-1, 0-1, 0-1)

It hasn’t been the best of years for Dinamo Minsk. The Belarusians failed to make last season’s playoffs and are off the pace again this season. But 2018 ended on a high for Andrei Sidorenko’s team thanks to a 3-0 win in Yaroslavl.

A goal in each period secured the verdict, while Jhonas Enroth made 31 saves to frustrate a Loko team missing several key young players currently at the World Juniors in Canada. Alexei Tereshchenko opened the scoring, helped by a series of deflections as the first period drew to a close.

Alexander Kogalev doubled the lead right after the intermission but Lokomotiv subsequently piled on to the offensive for the remainder of the period. Despite spending the bulk of the game camped in Dinamo territory, though, the host could only muster eight shots at Enroth and the visitor remained 2-0 up going into the final session. The third period started with another Dinamo goal, Andrei Kostitsyn converting a breakaway chance after the Loko offense spluttered at the other end, and there was no way back for the Railwaymen.

Resilient Torpedo makes it tough for CSKA

CSKA Moscow 2 Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod 1 (0-0, 1-1, 1-0)

League leader CSKA maintained its recent winning streak over Torpedo, but claiming a 10th successive victory over this opponent proved more stressful than usual.

Photo: 30.12.18. KHL Championship 2018-2019. CSKA (Moscow) - Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod)

A strong defensive showing at the start restricted Torpedo to just one shot on goal, but CSKA was unable to open the scoring at the other end. The second period scarcely saw more opportunities for the visitor, but Mikhail Varnakov beat Ilya Sorokin with one of Torpedo’s three shots on target to open the scoring in the 30th minute.

It wasn’t until six seconds from the intermission that Maxim Shalunov tied the game. The final frame saw even more CSKA pressure and finally, Torpedo cracked. A 5-on-3 penalty saw Jannik Hansen get the decisive goal and keep the Army Men out in front.

Riga’s playoff hopes boosted in nine-goal thriller

Dinamo Riga 5 Dynamo Moscow 4 (2-2, 2-0, 1-2)

Dinamo Riga goes into 2019 just one point outside the playoff places after snapping Dynamo Moscow’s winning streak in a lively encounter in Latvia.

The opening minutes gave a flavor of how this one might go: Andris Dzerins put Riga up in the fifth minute on the power play, Vadim Shipachyov tied it up in the sixth and Ruslan Karlin’s first for his new club gave the visitor the lead in the seventh. Nerijus Alisauskas got the host back on terms late in the first period.

The outcome was largely settled late in the second period when the Latvians opened a 4-2 lead. Mathew Maione struck on the power play then Colton Gillies added a fourth for the home team. Linus Videll made it 5-2 in the third period before Shipachyov orchestrated a fightback. He assisted on goals for Daniil Tarasov and Dmitry Kagarlitsky but time ran out before Dynamo could force the extras.

Jokerit ends the year on a high

Slovan Bratislava 1 Jokerit Helsinki 3 (0-1, 0-1, 1-1)

Slovan’s mini-revival stalled when Jokerit came to Slovakia and halted its two-game winning run. The result means the Bratislava team will go into the New Year bottom of the Western Conference while the Finns sit in third, five points clear of Lokomotiv.

The visitor had the better of the opening exchanges and went ahead at the end of the first period through Jesse Joensuu’s second goal in successive games. Slovan posed more of a threat in the second period, but Jokerit again found the net thanks to Sakari Manninen.

In the third, the visitor had to soak up some Slovan pressure before a breakaway goal from Niklas Jensen – Manninen among the assists – put the game beyond reach with 19 seconds to play. There was still time for some home cheer: Kyle Chipchura had the last word with four seconds on the clock. It made little difference to the outcome but robbed Janis Kalnins of a shut-out.

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