(8) Dinamo Minsk 4
(1) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 1
Dinamo Minsk lead the series 2-1
15,986 fans packed the Minsk Arena, setting a new attendance record for the KHL. And the local heroes did not let them down. The rousing atmosphere at the stadium even impressed the visitors’ head coach Vladimír Vůjtek: “The fans were great today. You always want to play in a packed arena, all the more so when it’s sixteen thousand. I like this atmosphere, in my life I’ve only experienced it maybe once before, in Calgary, at the world junior championships.”
He then turned his thoughts to the game: “I can’t say we played badly today, no. Robert Esche had a superb evening, and saved the Minsk guys on numerous occasions. Apart from that, I think nerves got the better of many of our players; they need to calm down and start playing the way they have played all through the championship. I still think we played better today than in our second home game; we created a lot of chances at 3-1 when the result was still in doubt.
“It turned out to be a wonderful evening,” – said the hosts’ head coach Marek Sykora, beaming with satisfaction. “We managed to score at the right time, and when the opposition had chances to equalize, Robert Esche came to the rescue. The guys had a feeling they would have a good evening, and they kept playing till the end.”
Minsk forward Andrei Mikhalev was seemingly worried that the tremendous home support would conspire against them: “We thought we’d have a bad start, such was the excitement level before the game. But we were able to quickly take the lead, and that helped us feel better.”
His partner in attack, Sergei Drozd, talked about the heat, in both the actual and figurative sense: “It’s a bit hotter in Minsk, and a bit cooler in the Yaroslavl arena, so it wasn’t easy today. But the support from the fans was also hot. The game wasn’t much different from Game 2 in Yaroslavl. We played the way the coach told us to, focusing more on defense and perfecting our counter-attacks. Our opponents are very strong offensively, and we had to find a way to shut down their leading attackers while still creating our own chances to score.”
(7) Dinamo Riga 5
(2) Dynamo Moscow 1
Dinamo Riga lead the series 2-1
A mere two days after Dynamo Moscow slammed in eight goals past these opponents, the visiting supporters had every right to hope for another avalanche of goals from their heroes. However, all is clearly not well with the Muscovites’ forwards and not even Leo Komarov, scorer of their only goal, can find an explanation: “We played badly, we were simply lifeless. I don’t even know what’s caused it, something’s happened to the team, making it really tough. So far the coach has said nothing to us; we’ll rest a little, then we’ll see what we should do next.”
None of the training staff from Moscow was in any mood to talk. Even the Blue-and-Whites’ usually talkative assistant coach Harijs Vitolins was struggling for words: “Right now even I can’t speak, I want to keep my emotions in check. We have a mission tomorrow to simply go and win, so we’ll postpone all conversations until Sunday evening.”
In the third period the visitors did indeed let emotion get the better of them, earning themselves 28 minutes of penalties. Of these, 14 went to Chris Simon for a dangerous attack in the head, while six went to Maxim Solovyev. According to Komarov, the sudden eruption was the Moscow men reacting to provocation from their opponents: “If the Riga guys keep on playing like that, we’ll hit them hard. We’ll be sitting in the penalty box, fine, but they’ll be lying on the floor. Today we still played it calm, in the coming games we’ll hit harder. We have guys who can do it well.”
Riga defenseman Jekabs Redlihs saw the situation differently: “Our opponents tried to intimidate us, and you really need to ask them what their team was playing at. But we could see how they just lost their composure, and all that stuff was just posturing.”
Continuing on this theme, he spoke about what to expect from tomorrow’s encounter: “It’ll probably be the same aggressive, physical game in the Dynamo Moscow style. I think both teams will show more discipline, so this game will surely be very interesting. No point in trying to spring any surprises. The teams know each other inside out. The principle is: whichever side plays the more aggressive and disciplined hockey will be the winner. I think on a purely physical basis we still can take the game to that level.”
(6) Spartak Moscow 2
(3) SKA St. Petersburg 5
SKA lead the series 3-0
The Army Men need just one more victory to progress to the second round of the Gagarin Cup for the first time in the club’s history, and at the same time take sweet revenge on Spartak for eliminating them at the first round stage in season 2008-09. Back then, only three wins were required, and Spartak only needed games to march onwards. But the new format demands that these two must meet again at least once.
Just as in the two games in St. Petersburg, these teams produced seven goals, only this time overtime was not needed. Both coaches remarked that the abundance of penalties (26 minutes to the hosts and 20 to the visitors) affected the game.
SKA head coach Vaclav Sykora said: “We expected Spartak to play very aggressively. At the start we played well, but then we picked up a lot of penalties – three times we found ourselves playing 3-on-4 and twice we were 3-on-5. The third period was our best, because we played with discipline and kept to our tactics. The players did everything I asked of them.”
Andrei Yakovenko, acting head coach at Spartak said: “When we were playing at even strength we were fine, but we were often short-handed and we were weak at taking advantage when we outnumbered them. There were moments when we should have scored, and changed the course of the game. It wasn’t to be.
(5) Severstal Cherepovets 2
(4) Atlant Mytishchi 1
Severstal lead the series 2-1
The warring parties in this series were again destined to follow a familiar script, as the game’s hero, Severstal forward Evgeny Ketov, scorer of both his side’s goals, described after the game: “The three games are like carbon copies. We allow the first goal, survive a siege when we’re playing 3-on-5, than create chances and score. The second goal was completely unexpected for me – I sent a pass to (Nikolai) Bardin but the puck hit a defenseman’s skate and flew into the goal.”
The visitors enjoyed numerical advantage for most of this game, and so can reasonably bemoan their bad luck. Alexei Glukhov, who assisted on Atlant’s only goal, said: “We controlled the game, and we didn’t give the opposition space to turn in our half. But luck let us down. I don’t think the result was entirely fair, we fully deserved to win. The god of hockey turned his back on us today, but we’re striving to create our own luck. Following the previous heavy defeat the team had serious talk, and other things were done and decisions were made but I won’t air these in public. But anyone could see clearly that today we played a lot better.”
Atlant head coach Milos Riha had a similar view, but did not neglect to mention the absence of leading player Sergei Mozyakin: “My team looked really good today. It’s a shame we could score when we were 5-on-3. If you don’t convert advantages like that into goals, then you can forget about winning. I thought we scored a clear goal at the end of the first period, but the officials ruled it out. I don’t want to make excuses for the defeat, but that’s how it seems to me. And Mozyakin didn’t make it onto the ice for fitness reasons: he took such a battering in the home games that he needed to get himself back together again.”
Severstal head coach Dmitry Kvartalnov did not deny that there was an element of luck on his team’s side: “I partly agree with Milos. In the first two periods we got our tactics wrong. We got it together a little in the third, and made it count. The winning goal was partly down to luck, but for the last ten minutes we risked playing with three lines to get a victory, and it paid off.”