The Red Army led for most of the game, though Prague made it interesting in the third period and, led by Tomáš Surový, cut the deficit to one goal. It wasn’t enough and the Lions eventually fell to CSKA Moscow for the second game in a row.
It was a game of close chances that Prague couldn’t convert – the story of their season so far. The firepower of CSKA Moscow was too much, and the Lion’s dropped their seventh consecutive game, losing 3-2 to the Red Army.
The home side nearly gave up the first goal moments into this game. A minute into the match, Mikhail Grabovski found himself alone in front of the net. He made the move to put Tomáš Pöpperle on his stomach and looked to be home free. However, not one to give up on the play, the Czech keeper lifted his right pad off the ice for a stop that will surely be make the saves of the week.
Following the save, Prague would generate the majority of chances, but Rastislav Staňa, the KHL leader in GAA and save percentage, kept his team from falling behind early.
First, Lubos Bartečko took a keen pass from Jaroslav Svoboda at the side of the net, but was stoned by the splits of Staňa. On that same sequence, Bartečko was clobbered into the net by Evgeny Ryasensky. Ryasensky was given two for interference, but the Lions could not convert.
Both Bartečko and Ondřej Němec followed up with great opportunities in the slot, only to be denied by Staňa yet again.
CSKA finished the period strong though. The ever-dangerous Pavel Datsyuk nearly set up the opening goal, spinning a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Finnish defender Mikko Mäenpää, who couldn’t – hem – finish, sending the puck wide of the net.
Just as it had on Friday night, the first period ended scoreless. The second, however, would belong to the Red Army.
On a delayed penalty call, Maxim Kondratyev’s point shot hit a mass of traffic in front of the Prague net. The puck bounced right to Alexi Marchenko, alone between the hash marks. The 20 year-old Russian wasted no time, firing home his third, and giving his team the 1-0 lead. Pöpperle, screened on the original point shot, was well out of position by the time he had tracked Marchenko and the puck.
Before the intermission, the Red Army would double their lead on the powerplay. During a 2-on-2 rush, Mikhail Grabovski snuck in behind both Prague defenders, took a wicked pass from Pavel Datsyuk and would not be denied by the Prague goalie this time. With Pöpperle deep in his net, Grabovski went blocker side for his fourth of the year.
Two goals down is a bad place to be if you’re a club struggling to score, and the Lions would play the rest of this match trailing.
That is not to say that they gave up. If there is any silver-lining to be taken from a seventh consecutive defeat, it’s that they went down swinging on Thursday night.
Prague cut the lead to one on a third-period powerplay. With Igor Grigorenko sitting in the box for a delay of game penalty, Zdeno Chara’s slapshot from the point was tipped in front by Tomáš Surový, who brilliantly redirected the puck through Staňa’s five hole.
Sadly, this momentum would not last long.
Before I could finish writing down Surovy’s name in my notes, before the goal announcement had ceased, a mere eighteen seconds later, Moscow would restore their two goal cushion.
Exploiting the Prague defence, Alexander Radulov sent a cross-ice pass to brother Igor, who had found open ice, and one-timed the puck past Pöpperle, blocker-side.
The Lions did everything they could to even the score and send the 12 731 in attendance home happy. In a 6-on-4 situation, Tomáš Surový put home a feed from Juraj Mikúš to score his second of the night and cut the lead to one. It was also Prague’s second powerplay goal of the night, but it was too little too late.
It should be noted that Mikhail Grabovksi nearly ended the comeback before the game was over. Hauled down on a breakaway, he was awarded a penalty shot with 1:20 left on the game clock. Grabbo tried to go blocker-side on Pöpperle, but was stopped.
The final two minutes of the match were really the only challenge for CSKA on this night, and they prevailed to win their fifth game in six. The club is now tied with Locomotiv for the Tarasov division lead, with 37 points apiece, although Locomotiv has one game in hand.
Staňa was consistent in this one, making 25 saves for his 9th win of the season.
Prague continues their slide. With the loss (and a Donbass shootout win simultaneously occurring in the Ukraine) the Lions have finally fallen out of the playoff picture, and will start next week on the outside looking in. Even more alarming, Zdeno Chara is still winless in a Lion’s jersey, having lost all seven games in which he’s appeared.
Leaving the 02 Arena may help Prague to turn around their slumping ways. They will play four home games next week at Tipsport Arena, a building where they hold a 4-2 record so far this season.