Andy Potts Andy Potts
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An overtime victory against its closest rival saw Neftkehimik secure eighth place in the Eastern Conference with one game to spare. The other contender, Kunlun Red Star, lost at home to Dinamo Riga to see its hope end. At the top of the table, Barys moves into second in the East with a 3-1 win at Admiral.

Neftekhimik sets up a Tatarstan derby

Amur Khabarovsk 2 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 3 SO (0-1, 0-0, 2-1, 0-1)

This game had the feel of a game seven playoff encounter. Amur needed to avenge its 0-8 loss against this opponent 24 hours earlier to stay in contention for a playoff place; Neftekhimik knew that it could secure eighth place if it won and Kunlun Red Star failed to beat Dinamo Riga.

Photo: 24.02.20. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Amur (Khabarovsk) - Neftekhimik (Nizhnekamsk)

For much of the game, it seemed that Neftekhimik was going to achieve its aim with relatively little trouble. An early Zack Mitchell goal opened the scoring and the visitor held onto its lead until the start of the third period. But then it all changed. Alexei Volgin was ejected from the game and Amur scored on that major penalty. Michal Jordan tied the scores, and soon afterwards Jacob Berglund was in the bin as the Tigers looked to get in front. Neftkekhimik killed that penalty, but fell behind to a Kirill Rasskazov goal with 10 minutes to play.

However, there would be no fairytale ending for Amur. Instead, veteran defenseman Evgeny Ryasensky popped up with his first goal of the season to tie the game in the 57th minute. That was the 32-year-old’s first goal in the KHL since the 2014/15 season, and only his 19th in 547 appearances. A rare event, but enough to take the game to overtime.

And there was more drama to come. Neftekhimik launched a counter attack, Tomas Zohorna threw his stick in a bid to halt the advance and the officials awarded a penalty shot. Up stepped Matt White, seeking his 15th goal of the season, and he shrugged off the pressure to beat Evgeny Alikin and give the visitor the win. The win ended Amur’s hopes and, a few hours later, news of Red Star’s defeat against Riga meant that Vyacheslav Butsayev and his team had secured eighth place. Neftekhimik now faces Tatar neighbor Ak Bars in the opening round of the playoffs.

Riga ends Chinese hopes

Kunlun Red Star 1 Dinamo Riga 2 (0-0, 0-2, 1-0)

Kunlun was the third team in contention for eighth place, but the Dragons always had an outside chance. This would be Red Star’s final game of the regular season and only a win in regulation would keep it in contention if Neftekhimik failed to win in Vladivostok in its last meeting.

Photo: 24.02.20. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Kunlun Red Star (Beijing) - Dinamo (Riga)

Due to the coronavirus outbreak in China, the game had to be relocated and the teams agreed to meet in Novosibirsk. Unusually for a KHL game, there were three national anthems – Latvia, China and Russia – played before the puck was dropped. There was also a minute’s applause in support of the Chinese people and both teams wore #wuhanstrong and #chinastrong patches on their uniforms.

On the ice, though, the pressure seemed to affect Red Star. Dinamo, with nothing much to play for, had the better of the early stages and gradually turned that into goals thanks to Carter Ashton and Lauris Darzins midway through the game. Kunlun got one back in the third when Devante Smith-Pelly struck but Dinamo held on for the remaining seven minutes to end Red Star’s season.

Barys up to second

Admiral Vladivostok 1 Barys Nur-Sultan 3 (0-3, 1-0, 0-0)

Barys moved to the top of the Chernyshev Division with this win and will guarantee second place in the Eastern Conference if it wins its final game of the regular season at Amur.

The Kazakhs finished this one quickly, grabbing three goals in barely two minutes at the start of the first period. Valery Orekhov got the opener in the fifth minute, then two goals in 36 seconds saw Pavel Akolzin and Yegor Petukhov take the game out of Admiral’s reach.

Barys had a fourth goal disallowed for a high stick before Konstantin Glazachev got one back for the home team in the 37th minute. But the visitor was always on top and comfortably closed out the third period to secure the victory.

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