The games are coming thick and fast for the Vanke Rays, but a congested schedule gives our girls the chance to close the gap on table-topping Agidel. And Friday’s match-up with Biryusa, rearranged from the start of the season after coronavirus forced our opponent to stay in Krasnoyarsk back in November, saw the Lady Dragons move within seven points of the league leader. That might sound like a lot, but our team has five games in hand as it looks to climb from third place in the standings.
January’s schedule began with two tough assignments against Agidel. With our team freshly back in action after a long lay-off, we shared the spoils in two draining battles. Fifth-placed Biryusa, meanwhile, arrived on the back of a thriller of its own at Dynamo Neva and that combination of exhausting encounters might explain why the first period of this game failed to take flight. Neither team was able to create a great deal as the scoreline remained blank for 20 minutes.
Indeed, it took a goal from the visitor to shake some of the lethargy from the Dragons’ wings in the second period. A long pass out of the Biryusa defense saw Elena Mezentseva release Valeriya Pavlova into the KRS zone. Beyond the last defenseman, Pavlova advanced on Noora Raty and produced a top shelf finish.
If that suggested a shock might be in the offing, the Rays responded emphatically. Four goals in seven minutes turned the scores around and extinguished any meaningful hope of Biryusa success in the game. Alex Carpenter was at the heart of it all, scoring two goals and assisting on another to move to 27 points for the season and climb to fourth in the WHL scoring race. Megan Bozek also scored twice.
Carpenter potted the tying goal midway through that second period, getting the redirect on a Jessica Wong point shot. Then she created Bozek’s first of the afternoon with an effort from a wide angle that visiting goalie Darya Grezden could only push out onto the crease where both Hannah Miller and Bozek had gambled on a rebound breaking for them.
A couple of minutes later, Carpenter had her second of the game. When a stumble in the Biryusa defense allowed Rachel Llanes to burst into the zone, the visitor was clearly in trouble. When Llanes was able to pick out Carpenter in front of the net, there was only one outcome and the Rays led 3-1. Now the floodgates were open and within a minute Bozek unleashed her trademark howitzer to score from the point with a shot that whistled through traffic in front of Grezden.
Comfortably in front, the Lady Dragons could afford to spend the third period holding Biryusa at arm’s length. The home offense was notably less incisive in the final frame but the visitor could do little with the extra possession until it got a 5-on-3 power play midway through the session. The team from Siberia managed to turn that into a goal, with Pavlova assisting on Ekaterina Dobrodeyeva’s tally after the puck rattled around in front of Raty’s net. Our goalie then came up with a big double save, initially denying Pavlova then recovering to stop Sofiya Lifatova converting the rebound.
Had that gone in, Biryusa might have believed it could complete an unlikely fightback and save something from the game. Instead, the closing minutes saw the Vanke Rays hold that comfortable two-goal advantage until the final hooter. Tomorrow the teams meet again here in Stupino.