In a season where he should never even have sniffed an NHL roster, Pyotr Kochetkov found himself in the middle of an NHL playoff game.
Premature injuries ravaged the Carolina Hurricanes’ goaltending depth, straining management’s hands, but Kochetkov, to be fair, still came through in the conversation.
The young Russian goaltender came to North America after his KHL team Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod was eliminated and immediately fled with the Chicago Wolves.
In the AHL, Kochetkov was 13-1-1 with a 2.09 GAA and .921 save percentage. He was athletic, he was feisty, he looked like a promising keeper of the future.
“He’s a very confident guy,” said Andrei Svechnikov. “A great guy and so funny. When he gets the chance, he’s always up for it. He knows that if something were to happen he would go in the net and he will show his best game.
But with Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta playing so well – the pair were awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals during the regular season – there was no need for Kochetkov with the big club.
But Andersen then suffered a non-contact knee injury late in a game against the Colorado Avalanche and with Alex Lyon, Eetu Makiniemi and Beck Warm also all injured, Kochetkov was recalled.
It wasn’t the end of the world though, as the Canes still had Raanta who was doing well.
Kochetkov ended up lucky with the timing of his recall because with a back-to-back schedule he got the opportunity for his first NHL start.
The first straight game featured a stoppage in New Jersey and against the Devils, Kochetkov managed to earn his first career victory, stopping 19 shots along the way. Getting a win in your first match is more than most can ask for.
Raanta was granted the next start, but would not see the end of the game as he would leave with an injury – later reported as cramps – so Kochetkov was back in the net.
And he won again.
The next game on the schedule featured the final showdown with the New York Rangers and had the Metropolitan Division title on the line. is shown.
His 34-save performance secured the subway for the Canes and it looked like his feel-good story had come to an end with Raanta returning for the final game of the regular season and being the guaranteed starter in Game 1.
But things are never that simple.
Raanta started Game 1 and his 35 save performance helped his team win 5-1 and he also started Game 2.
But just 7:47 into that game, David Pastrnak collided with the Finnish keeper, catching him with an elbow to the head. He wouldn’t come back.
So Kochetkov found himself in the net. In the middle of an NHL playoff game. Not even three months removed from playing in the KHL.
Svechnikov said he told Kochetkov before taking the ice: “Let’s be confident and don’t worry about anything. I know you’re ready and I know you’ll perform well here.
And if the young Russian was nervous, he certainly didn’t show it.
Because even in this situation, fans were treated to the full Kochetkov experience. Coming out of his net to play pucks when a defender was already there, playing dumps on the net with one hand on his stick and his five holes open, aggressively challenging shooters and taking nothing from anyone.
He even got into it with Brad Marchand. After taking a shot in the second period, he went to throw it to his defender to keep the play alive, and Marchand slammed into him from behind. Kochetkov responded by hitting Marchand with his stick and shoving him.
It’s a fiery spirit for sure.
“He’s that kind of guy,” Svechnikov said. “I remember the past, playing with him in junior hockey. He was always that kind of guy. Get into that stuff.
But in the crease, the Russian keeper looked as calm and cool as can be, stopping 30 of the 32 shots he faced and those who caught him were a third chance to hack and whack into the crease on an advantage Boston digital and a ricochet slap shot a Bruins ankle.
“I think he’s very calm,” Tony DeAngelo said. “You don’t see any nervousness, at least in my eyes. I don’t know what he feels inside. I’m sure he’s a little nervous. Anyone would be, right? But I thought he was very calm in front of the net. He made a lot of saves, wasn’t trying to do too much. He was calm. Came in goal in the first half in a playoff game as a rookie after coming here a few weeks ago, he was really good.
So the 2019 second-round pick, who barely speaks English and has been in North America for less than three months, helped guide his new team to a 2-0 lead over the Bruins and it looks like he could have the Hurricanes. ‘ playoff hopes on his shoulders, at least for a little while.
But is anyone really worried? The rookie is 17-1-1 since arriving in North America and is yet to lose at the NHL level.
“Seeing Pyotr go into the crease, I had full confidence that he was going to grab this like he did at the end of the season,” Aho said. “Just a great goalkeeper, makes clutch saves and you really want to work hard for a guy like that. He’s always strong-willed and soulful. He works hard in training so I wasn’t surprised that again succeeded in disengaging the clutch.