In a season where he never should have even sniffed an NHL roster, Pyotr Kochetkov found himself in the middle of an NHL playoff game.
Untimely injuries ravaged the goaltending depth of the Carolina Hurricanes, which forced the hands of management, but Kochetkov, to be fair, had forced his way into the conversation regardless.
The young Russian netminder came to North America after his KHL team, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, were eliminated, and immediately went on a run with the Chicago Wolves.
In the AHL, Kochetkov had a 13-1-1 record with a 2.09 GAA and 0.921 save percentage. He was athletic, he was fiery, he looked like a promising goaltender of the future.
“He’s a very confident guy,” said Andrei Svechnikov. “Awesome guy and so funny. When he gets the opportunity, he’s always ready for that. He knows that if something were to happen he’d go into the net and he’s going to show off 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 least amount of goals over the course of the regular season – there was no need for Kochetkov with the big club.
But then Andersen suffered a non-contact injury to his knee late in a game against the Colorado Avalanche and with Alex Lyon, Eetu Makiniemi and Beck Warm all injured as well, Kochetkov got the callup.
It wasn’t the end of the world though, because the Canes still had Raanta who was doing well.
Kochetkov ended up being lucky with the timing of his callup because with a back-to-back on the schedule, he got the opportunity for his first NHL start.
The first game of the back-to-back featured a stop in New Jersey and against the Devils, Kochetkov managed to earn his first career win, stopping 19 shots along the way. Getting a win in your first game is more than most can ask for.
Raanta got the next start, but wouldn’t see the end of the game as he would leave with an injury – later reported to be cramping – so Kochetkov was back in 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. With Raanta not 100%, Kochetkov was thrown back into the fire and, yet again, the kid showed out.
His 34-save performance secured the Metro for the Canes and it seemed like his feel-good story had reached an end with Raanta coming back for the final regular season game and being the guaranteed Game 1 starter.
But things are never quite that simple.
Raanta started Game 1 and his 35-save performance helped his team to a 5-1 win and he also started Game 2.
But just 7:47 into that game, David Pastrnak collided heavily with the Finnish netminder, catching him with an elbow to the head. He wouldn’t return.
So Kochetkov ended up back 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 he took the ice, “Let’s be confident and don’t worry about anything. I know you’re ready and I know you’re going to produce well here.’”
And if the young Russian was nervous at all, 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 defenseman was already back there, playing on-net dump-ins with only one hand on his stick and his five-hole open, aggressively challenging shooters and just taking nothing from nobody.
He even got into it with Brad Marchand. After gloving down a shot in the second period, he went to toss it to his defenseman to keep play alive, and Marchand ran into him from behind. Kochetkov responded by slashing Marchand with his stick and shoving him.
He’s a fiery spirit for sure.
“He’s that kind of guy,” Svechnikov said. “I remember from the past, playing with him in junior hockey. He was always that kind of guy. Gets into that sort of stuff.”
But in the crease, the Russian netminder looked as calm and cool as could be, stopping 30 of the 32 shots that he faced and the ones that got by him were a third chance hack and whack session in the crease on a Boston power play and a ricocheted slap shot off a Bruins ankle.
“I think he’s real calm,” said Tony DeAngelo. “You don’t see any jitters, at least in my eyes. I don’t know what he’s feeling inside. I’m sure he’s a little nervous. Anybody would be, right? But I thought he was real calm in the net. He made a lot of saves, wasn’t trying to do too much. He was calm. Coming into goal in the first period 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 any English and has been in North America for less than three months, has helped guide his new team to a 2-0 series lead over the Bruins and it looks like he may have the Hurricanes’ playoff hopes on his shoulders, at least for a little while.
But is anybody really worried? The rookie is 17-1-1 since coming to North America and has yet to lose at the NHL level.
“Seeing Pyotr go into the crease, I had full confidence that he was going to clutch that out like he had been doing at the end of the season,” Aho said. “Just a great goalie, Makes clutch saves and you really want to work hard for a guy like that. He’s always willing and moving. Works hard in the practice, so I wasn’t surprised that he came through in the clutch again.”