Ak Bars assured itself of the Kharlamov Division title this season with a hard-fought victory in Riga. The home team once again belied its lowly league position to give the KHL’s leader a real battle but, despite leading twice in the first period, was unable to repeat its sensational victory in Kazan last month.
Hopes of repeating that shock result were boosted at the start. Ak Bars took an early penalty for too many men and Dinamo made the most of that power play with a goal from Miks Indrasis.
In response, the first Ak Bars PP brought the scores level. Stephane Da Costa made the most of the extra space around the home net and picked his spot from the left-hand dot to fire past Janis Voris. Nikolajs Jelisejevs restored Dinamo’s lead with a second power play goal in the 14th minute. That was 26-year-old’s fourth goal in the KHL, and his first since Jan. 6, 2017 when he potted a consolation tally in a 1-6 loss against SKA. Since then, he’s played most of his hockey in the Latvian championship or the VHL, where he spent a season with China’s Tsen Tou Jilin.
However, Ak Bars was enjoying far more of the play and da Costa got his second of the game to tie it up just before the intermission. Viktor Tikhonov’s unexpected pirouette in front of the Latvian net created the chance; the Frenchman followed up to put the puck home.
After that free-scoring opening frame, the pace dropped a little in the second. Although Dinamo had more of the play than before, it was Ak Bars that went in front for the first time when Tikhonov scored from close range off a Da Costa assist.
Dinamo was far from finished, though, and tied the game midway through the third period. Indrasis led the charge into Ak Bars territory before Roberts Bukarts exchanged passes with Mathew Maione before firing the puck home. The visitor, though, responded almost immediately. A dump and chase did not look promising until Mikhail Glukhov hunted the puck down, went round the back and slung it to the slot. Dmitry Safonov was unable to stuff it home, but a deflection off a luckless home defenseman beat Voris and made it 4-3.
Riga’s cause was not helped by a penalty on Roberts Mamcics which enabled the league leader to eat up a couple of valuable minutes. Home hopes disappeared completely when JC Lipon returned to the locker room after a late tripping penalty also saw him hit with a game misconduct call. Ultimately, it was little surprise that the visitor successfully closed out the final moments to clinch its 40th victory of the season.