— Carlos Verde (@Carlos77Verde) December 30, 2015
Elvis has not yet left the building. Lugano goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, that is.
The 21 year-old Latvian netminder made 30 saves, including many crucial third period stops, to preserve a 3-0 win for Lugano against KHL club Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg.
Lugano struck first inside the jovial Vaillant Arena at 15:11 of the opening period, when former NHLer Tim Stapleton redirected Philippe Furrer’s point shot past Avto goaltender Jakub Kovar. The Swiss team dominated the first twenty minutes, outshooting Avto 12-5 and challenging Kovar often.
The second period saw head coach Andrei Razin’s Avto team come out aggressively. Yekaterinburg threw its weight around against the smaller, quicker Lugano, and while it resulted in a more even period, they also took a number of penalties.
Swedish-born Lugano forward Linus Klasen doubled his team’s lead just over four minutes into the middle frame, deking out Kovar beautifully and finishing with a Bobby Orr-style leap.
The third frame saw Avto push back, as the Russian team outshot Lugano 15-5 in the period but couldn’t capitalize on a trio of powerplay opportunities gifted to them. A number of quality saves from Merzlikins preserved the win for Lugano, which surprisingly sat back in the third period and allowed Avto to take the game to them.
Damien Brunner’s late empty-netter sealed the victory for Lugano.
All things considered, Avto can still consider their performance at the 2015 Spengler Cup as nothing short of spectacular. As a ‘small budget’ team in the KHL, nobody was entirely sure what to expect from Yekaterinburg. Despite an unattractive start in their tournament opener against Canada, the small KHL outfit demolished tournament hosts Davos and German club Adler Mannheim to scrap their way to the semi-final. Avto’s speedy 20 year-old assistant captain Anatoli Golyshev turned many heads at the tournament and might have boosted his reputation around Europe.
For Lugano, it’s a quick turnaround; Doug Shedden’s team will have to get a good night’s rest and be ready to go in less than 24 hours against Canada in the tournament final.