KRS Vanke Rays 4 Biryusa Krasnoyarsk 2 (1-0, 2-1, 1-1)
KRS wins the series 2-0
The Vanke Rays are back in the Grand Final! A second playoff victory over Biryusa on Thursday completed a sweep of the semi-final series in double-quick time and sets up a final showdown over five games in defense of the Russian Women’s Hockey League title our girls won last year.
The opposition for that series is yet to be determined – SKIF currently leads Agidel 1-0 in the other semi-final, but the decisive games will be played in Ufa at the weekend – but the Lady Dragons can head back to Stupino to begin their preparations for the biggest games of the campaign after winning in Krasnoyarsk for the fourth time in the space of a week.
As Brian Idalski pointed out after yesterday’s game, each passing encounter makes the next one more difficult. With the Rays playing Biryusa so often in quick succession, neither team had any more secrets and both groups understood each other’s game perfectly well.
Thursday’s meeting, played in Krasnoyarsk but with KRS notionally the home team, was our second time at the larger Platinum Arena. The team’s WHL regular season games took place in a smaller venue, but for the playoffs the action switched to the city’s biggest rink. With a larger pad, it suited Biryusa’s efforts to play a more defensive game and the home team adopted similar tactics today. For all the Vanke Rays controlled the first period, limiting the opposition to just a couple of chances, it was a challenge to find the breakthrough until late in the period.
The opening goal eventually arrived in the 17th minute. Kaitlin Tse’s point shot flashed wide of the target but the rebound fell for Emily Costales to squeeze the puck home from behind the net.
The second period began with the Dragons on the power play – and a second goal soon followed. Megan Bozek’s shot deflected off Alexandra Gorshkova’s skates and fell for Alex Carpenter. The leading scorer in the WHL doesn’t pass up chances like that, and duly rifled home her first of the playoffs.
After that, Biryusa had to abandon its cautious approach and try to find the goals that would get it back into the game and keep the series alive. After facing just two shots in the first period, Kimberly Newell was suddenly rather busier, with Valeria Pavlova finding opportunities to test our goalie. However, the next goal came at the other end. Leah Lum picked out Kaitlyn Tougas for a one-timer, Darya Gredzen got a partial block on that venomous shot, but Alena Mills was alert to the situation and leapt in to slide the puck over the line.
Late in the frame, Biryusa pulled a goal back when Elizaveta Zenchenko thumped home a one-timer off Elena Kuznetsova’s diagonal feed. That halted Newell’s playoff shut-out streak seconds before it reached the 100-minute mark. However, any hopes of building on that were hampered when Sofia Lifatova took a needless penalty immediately after the restart.
The early moments of the third period saw Gredzen embellish her growing reputation as a rising star of Russian goaltending, producing a solid save to deny Carpenter then stopping a Rachel Llanes shot on the goal line. And those saves looked even more significant midway through the session when the Rays ran into penalty trouble and Biryusa got a 5-on-3 power play. That led to Oxana Mitrofanova smashing a shot into the roof of the net to make it 2-3 with a further 1:40 on the PK to come.
However, there would be no fairytale fightback for the Siberian team. KRS killed that penalty and steadily regained control of the game. A power play for the Rays proved decisive, with Hannah Miller scoring from close range to restore a two-goal advantage and put the game, and the series, beyond Biryusa’s reach.