Dinamo Riga has, in recent seasons, been something of a bogey team for Dynamo Moscow – and remains the last team to win a play-off series against the team from the Russian capital. With the Latvians going well this season, their hopes of a top-four finish faced a serious examination against the defending champion, but one which could be faced without undue fear.
That confidence was rewarded with a 4-2 victory which all but confirms a Latvian presence in this season’s play-offs. Strong defense was the key, with Dynamo Moscow limited to goals on the power play as Mikael Tellqvist had another impressive game between the pipes.
The first period was a fairly even affair, with clear chances at a premium. The opening goal, from Dominik Granak, came on the power play – Dynamo’s defenseman emphatically smashed home the rebound after Konstantin Gorovikov rattled the post from mid-range. Granak’s evening soon took a turn for the worse, however, when he took a heavy hit a few minutes later and eventually had to leave the game.
If the opening had a slight Moscow twang, the middle session had a strong Latvian accent. The game’s momentum hinged on the first penalty called on Dynamo – it took just 40 seconds for Riga to capitalize and tie the game as Kristaps Sotnieks turned Kyle Wilson’s threaded pass beyond Alexander Sharychenkov.
Dynamo managed a further spell of pressure, but the Blue-and-Whites could not find a way through Riga’s defense. And after a successful penalty kill Rustams Begovs returned to the game to put Dinamo in front. It seemed his chance had gone when poor stick-handling forced him beyond the goal, but he recovered well to circle behind before deceiving Sharychenkov with a low shot across the face of goal and into the far corner.
Early in the third Martins Cipulis extended that lead, and his goal proved to be decisive. Dynamo did pull one back on thanks to Maxim Solovyov’s slap shot in the 51st minute, but as the game finally became stretched Paul Szczechura got away from his man and fired upstairs to complete the scoring.
Play-off jitters contine
The quest for a play-off place in the Eastern Conference continues to see teams struggling for form – and Avangard was the latest victim of the jitters on the home straight. Victory at Ugra would have seen the Omsk team leapfrog Traktor into the top eight, but not even that prize was sufficient inspiration for Milos Riha’s men.
Ugra has scant hope of extending its season despite an upsurge in recent form; a dismal sequence of mid-season defeats put paid to that before New Year. But it still had enough about it to stump Avangard in the first period, notching two unanswered goals to take control. Nikita Gusev got things rolling in the 10th minute, converting a penalty shot after being pulled back by Nikita Pivtsakin, then Mikhail Zhukov doubled the lead on 16:00.
Sergei Kostitsyn pulled one back on the power play midway through the second, but Ugra held firm to inflict a serious blow on Avangard’s play-off hopes.
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Lev snatched an equalizer with just three seconds left to play, forcing a 2-2 tie at Ak Bars. Ondrej Nemec took the game to overtime in dramatic fashion, before clinching the points in the shoot-out thanks to Martin Thornberg.
Alexei Simakov led the way for Avtomobilist in a 6-2 home win over Barys. He scored twice, including the go-ahead goal early in a second period which saw Avto open up a crucial two-goal cushion. Eduard Lewandowski also netted two for the home team in the closing minutes as Avotmobilst secured its play-off place in style.
Torpedo also clinched its play-off spot thanks to Avangard’s defeat, but failed to show any play-off form against Slovan. The Nizhny Novgorod recovered from 0-2 down on home ice, dragging itself level by midway thanks to Wojtek Wolski and Evgeny Skachkov. But Slovan took the verdict thanks to Libor Hudacek’s goal late in the second.