With every player on the Magnitogorsk team offered a hundred thousand dollar bonus for victory against the Rangers, the financially strong KHL was looking to flex its new found muscle on the world stage and for two periods the validation the Russian authorities were seeking against the greatest league in the world looked to be set in stone. A weak New York Rangers display suffered with poor penalties and even poorer netminding from Lundqvist as his opposite number Andrei Mezin shone for the Russians, but a third period turn around in which the Rangers asserted their offensive dominance paid off with a last gasp tie breaker from Ryan Callahan.
Perhaps expecting a traditional continental style of hockey, the Rangers entered into the game against Magnitogorsk after routing a young SC Bern on the same Swiss ice a night previous. However the Russians proved a much tougher and schooled nut to crack with a puck possession game that landed them a two goal lead at the end of the first albeit through some dubious efforts from the Rangers number one and a legless Rangers performance.
Making hay into the second Magnitogorsk extended their lead, capitalizing on the Rangers poor zonal coverage burdened by an overtly adventurous forecheck. The subsequent raft of penalties saw Magnitogorsk plot what looked a certain route to victory with a third goal, their second on the powerplay, when Zavarukhin scored on a deflection. As the pace increased in the latter stages of the second however, Magnitogorsk started to look tired and two quick fire penalties allowed the Rangers back into the game with a late 5 on 3 conversion by Chris Drury.
With the bit between their teeth the Rangers began to pressure the Russian puck carriers in the third and the slick Metallurg passing game began to unravel into numerous turnover and penalties. The Rangers, now looking more like the dominant team, began asserting their offensive supremacy and a quick fire Dan Fritsche goal saw the gap close to one. With momentum on their side against a flagging Mettalurg Magnitogorsk the Rangers tied the game up on a Gomez powerplay goal with nine minutes left on the clock.
As the game began to wind down into certain overtime, the umpteenth turnover of the period saw Ryan Callaghan gather the puck just outside the offensive zone, with the play going the other way Callaghan split the Metallurg D and pulled a move to slot the puck past an often spectacular Mezin with less than twenty seconds on the clock ending the game in the Rangers and, more pertinently, the NHL’s favor.
For the Rangers it was a last period rally to save NHL face, rarely dominated by Magnitogorsk, the Rangers did look awfully poor on the penalty kill against a team struggling in special teams in their native division whilst also looking defensively threadbare against a good passing side. Whilst the first two periods made a very real statement for the KHL and its new brand of mature versatile hockey, the score and the third period will be what the game is remembered for.
The NHL is still king, but it was dreadfully close to going horribly wrong.