A double from Reid Boucher helped Avangard record its fifth straight victory. The win also highlights the progress made by the Hawks since Mikhail Kravets replaced Dmitry Ryabykin behind the bench. When the teams met previously, less than a month ago, Magnitka won 7-4 in Kravets’ third game in charge.
Now Avangard is on the up, winning seven of its last eight games (by contrast, the team just one of Kravets first four engagements). The Omsk club is still in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but is looking at closing the gap on the top four rather than sweating on the progress of the chasing pack.
Metallurg, meanwhile, has hit a sticky patch. After reaching the top of the Eastern Conference, the Steelmen are now on a four-game skid and have dropped behind Salavat Yulaev. Today’s game saw a return for goaltender Eddie Pasquale, who missed the recent unsuccessful three-game road trip.
In the early stages, Pasquale was not particularly busy. Metallurg started on the front foot and the home team’s better skating earned it the first power play of the game. Avangard survived that, and gradually began to improve. Late in the frame, the visitor gained the ascendancy and turned it into the opening goal, a one-timer that extended a productive streak worth six points in his previous four games.
For the most part, this game was not an exhibition of flamboyant hockey. Avangard, in particular, adopted a cautious approach to the game and did a good job of stifling the home offense for long periods. And the visitor managed to extend its lead midway through the second period when a battle in front of Pasquale’s net took everyone’s attention and Semyon Chistyakov fired a shot through the crowd and past the unsighted netminder.
In a game short of chances, a two-goal lead felt decisive. However, at the start of the third period Metallurg got a 5-on-3 power play. The home team grabbed that lifeline and exploited it to the max. First, Nikita Korostelyov fired a shot through Vasily Demchenko’s pads. That released the first man from the box, but as the power play continued, Maxim Karpov’s deflected shot tied the game.
Now the game was a battle for every centimeter of the ice. Metallurg seemed to be shading it, but Avangard was still creating chances on the counter. However, in the 52nd minute, when Avangard managed to build some sustained pressure on the home net, Boucher found the goal to win the game.
After 12 straight losses, Sochi finally got to celebrate a win. The Leopards were getting closer in recent games, taking their last two to overtime. Back on home ice, Sergei Svetlov’s team got a verdict at last. Two goals from Andrei Altybarmakyan secured an OT success over Lokomotiv to give the new head coach his first victory with the club.
Sochi’s 19-year-old forward Tigran Yarulin has endured a tough introduction to life in the KHL. In his eight appearances to date, he has yet to finish on the winning team. Today, though, he got his first goal in the competition, giving the Leopards the lead on three minutes. It came after a series of crunching hits and misplaced passes. The last, an attempted clearance, went straight to Yarulin’s stick and he fired in a shot from between the hash marks the squirmed past Ivan Bocharov.
However, Sochi’s lead was short-lived. Alexander Yelesin tied it up just 25 seconds later. After that, the visitor had the better of the first period but was unable to get in front.
In the second period, the Railwaymen continued to enjoy the greater share of possession. However, Sochi worked hard to cut down the shooting opportunities for the visitor and the game took on a more even character. Late in the frame, the basement club went in front once again when in-form Nikita Popugayev scored for the third game in a row.
However, in recent games Sochi has struggled to hold onto leads in the closing stages. When Artur Kayumov tied it up for Loko at the start of the third, it felt like history might be repeating itself. However, Altybarmakyan’s goal midway through the third changed all that. He spotted a chance of an interception as Loko brought play out of its zone, pounced on the puck and fired past Bocharov.
It still wasn’t easy. Lokomotiv tied it up through Stepan Nikulin in the closing stages and there was a real danger that, for the third game in a row, Sochi would drop a lead in the third and lose in overtime. However, Altybarmakyan had other ideas. He started the play behind his own net, then exchanged passes with Timur Khafizov in the Loko zone before rifling home the decisive goal.
Altybarmakyan’s second goal brought an end to Sochi’s long wait for a victory. For Lokomotiv, meanwhile, just two days separate victory at the defending champion from defeat at the bottom club.
Spartak was close to ending a five-game losing streak. However, it blew a lead in the third period, and fell to a last-minute goal in Minsk.
The first period was a contrast of styles. Spartak had more time on the puck, but its patient build up play did not result in many shots for Alexei Kolosov to save. At the other end, Patrik Rybar was no busier: Minsk was more inclined to shoot on sight, but had fewer opportunities to get into dangerous territory.
The opening goal came in the 27th minute. Spartak thought it had a power play when Ilya Shinkevich was called for tripping, but Ilya Shipov was also sent to the box for simulation and the game continued with 4-on-4. Dinamo made more of the extra space on the ice, and Alexei Emelin orchestrated an odd-man rush that Vladimir Alistrov finished.
However, Spartak soon responded. Shane Prince, once a Dinamo player and still a Belarusian dual national, tied it up midway through the second period. Then the visitor got ahead with a power play goal seconds before the intermission. Prince was involved again, battling for the puck after a face-off and setting up Joey Keane for an instinctive snipe from the top of the circle.
Early in the third period, Shipov found himself back in the penalty box and Dinamo was on the power play this time. Ryan Spooner duly converted the opportunity to tie the scores. And the game remained in the balance until the final seconds. Then, with overtime looming, Pavel Varfolomeyev and Roman Gorbunov found a surprising amount of space in front of Rybar’s net. The former Dinamo goalie could do little as Gorbunov collected a pass from his team-mate to score the decisive goal.