(1) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 4
(7) Dinamo Riga 2

Lokomotiv lead the series 1-0
A welcome sight in the Lokomotiv roster was the return of Konstantin Rudenko, back after a two-month lay-off through injury. His previous outing was back at the start of January against none other than Dinamo Riga. “I was pleased with Konstantin’s performance,” said Vladimír Vůjtek after the game. “He played very well, and was a threat several times, especially when he went past all the Riga guys and got his shot on target, but Chris Holt got his glove around it.”

That little episode took place in the third period, but it was the visitors that started the game in livelier mood, enjoying control of the puck in the home team’s zone and putting Dimitrij Kotschnew’s goal under pressure. Julius Supler selected the same faces that knocked Dynamo Moscow out of the play-offs, and let his players begin the game in attacking mood. “I counted on Lokomotiv, after a seven-game series in the last round, not being as fresh as us so we decided to be very active in Game 1.”

“Lokomotiv had played a game more than us,” said Lauris Darzins, echoing his coach, “and they had less time to get ready for today’s game, so we wanted a lively start. As it turned out, maybe we were too lively, and Lokomotiv caught us with counter-attacks, and these decided the outcome today.”

On one of these counter-attacks the Railwaymen did indeed rain on the Riga men’s parade, Alexander Galimov finding the target with ruthless accuracy. “We were ready for such a start,” explained Yaroslavl forward Gennady Churilov, “and we played it careful, we created a mass of chances, but in some we were unlucky and in others the visitors’ goaltender did well. At the end of the third period, for example, Galimov had a great chance but it came back off the pipe. We’ll be working on our finishing.”

The Riga men managed to pull level and halfway through the final period even took the lead. “It was a great game, and I’m grateful to my team for those two and a half periods,” was Julius Supler’s summing up, “however, our tactical mistakes decided the outcome. But it was an interesting game for the spectators. At the end Lokomotiv showed their skill and experience.”

The home fans did not even have time for despair at Riga’s second goal, as exactly a minute later yet another counter-attack was finished off in emphatic fashion by Karel Rachunek. “He’s now the №1 defenseman in our team,” proclaimed Vladimír Vůjtek. “He links up with the offense on his own initiative, and he does it really well.”

Holt took a long, hard look at the video replay, trying to fathom just how the puck had found its way through his guards and into the net, and was obviously dismayed at his failure to rescue his team at that moment. It was not long before Ivan Tkachenko fired the home team in front again, and the net was already empty when Josef Vasicek scored the fourth.

“It’s a shame we lost,” lamented Darzins. “We played well, and the coach had no major complaints about any of us. Everyone fought, tried, but we have to tidy up our game, as we were hit too often on the counter-attack. Lokomotiv beat us at our own game today, as we are usually the specialists on the counter. We have to go back to playing our way and win the next game, so that we can try to lead the series after our home games. We have to show discipline, try not to pick up penalties, and return to the kind of hockey we showed in the series against Dynamo Moscow.”

“A beautiful play-off game with a happy ending for our team,” was Vladimír Vůjtek’s overview. “Both sides fought from start to finish; a good tactical battle.”

With the new format the teams now get a day of rest before the next game. “It’s the same for both teams,” was Lauris Darzins’s reaction to the changes, “but for us, since we lost, we’ll have time to relax, analyze where we went wrong and get ready for the coming game. But if we’d won, then we’d have wanted to keep the spirit going and play Game 2 tomorrow.”

Churilov avoided making any predictions about the duration of this series: “We’ll be trying to win every game, and we’ll see how it goes. The Riga guys play good hockey, and they made it tough for us today. There are no easy opponents in the play-offs, especially at this stage.”

Andrei Vinogradov, special for khl.ru

(3) SKA St. Petersburg 5
(4) Atlant Mytishchi 3
SKA lead the series 1-0
This game turned out to be a highly unpredictable encounter, with seven of the eight goals coming in a twenty-minute spell. In the first period the two teams were merely studying each other, obviously acting on their coaches’ strict instructions, and the only event of note was Petr Prucha earning an extended spell in the penalty box. “In the first period we played the way we had to – calm and organized in defense. But at the same time our attackers still threatened our opponents’ goal,” said SKA defenseman Daniil Markov.

And then came the flood of goals, as if specially ordered to embarrass those who skeptically describe the play-offs as a defender’s game. The hosts struck first, but the delight in the Ice Palace lasted precisely 24 seconds. Disappointment quickly turned to horror as only three and a half minutes later the hosts were trailing 1-3, while on the bench SKA reserve goaltender Maxim Sokolov started warming up.

“I think the Petersburg guys’ longer rest before the game had an effect,” said Atlant forward Oleg Petrov, before adding with some sadness: “We should never have thrown such an advantage away.”

The home side were helped by the penalties accumulated by their visitors, as did Prucha’s return from his ten-minute absence, after which Vaclav Sykora’s lines reverted to their starting combinations.

“With such a comfortable lead, we went and handed the initiative to the hosts. The score made us relax, and we strayed from our tactical plans. And SKA punished us for this,” was how Petrov saw it.

As a result of Atlant’s complacency, the Petersburg men not only pulled level, but managed to regain the lead just before the break, thanks to Prucha finding the target. Mattias Weinhandl added another in the third period, which he could cheekily describe as business as usual: the Swede has scored in every play-off game this season. In the previous round’s games here at the Ice Palace it was Weinhandl’s goals which brought victory in overtime, but this time the hosts were in no mood to repeat their late mistakes against Spartak, and instead played out the remainder of the game keeping it tight in the neutral zone and avoiding penalties.

“It was a good game,” said Atlant head coach Milos Riha. “Today it was clear that we were in a play-off. We were up against well-organized, tactically-astute opponents, although we lost to them because of our own mistakes.”

“A tough but interesting game,” agreed his SKA counterpart Vaclav Sykora. “For us this game was better than Game 1 of the series against Spartak. We scored first, the team lost its concentration, and our opponents took full advantage. The third period was tough, but I’m glad we were able to withstand the pressure and win.”

Sergei Rychikhin, special for khl.ru

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