(8) Dinamo Minsk 2
(1) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 4
Series tied 2-2
And once again the hockey fans of Minsk broke the KHL attendance record, as no less than 16,039 of them crammed into the Minsk Arena. The difference with the day before, however, was that today they were not rewarded with a Dinamo victory. With only 9 seconds gone, the home goaltender Robert Esche was sent to the bench for deliberately throwing away the puck, and Lokomotiv wasted no time in capitalizing on his absence with a goal. After this episode, the visitors’ superiority was never in doubt.
The hosts’ head coach Marek Sykora thought the key moment was the third Yaroslavl goal, scored in a swift counter-attack following a shot from home defenseman Jordan Henry: “It wasn’t worth shooting from there, and what’s more, it was a terrible shot, although at that moment no-one was closing Jordan down, but Lokomotiv took full advantage of the mistake, and Kiryukhin hit a superb shot on the move.”
But overall he was still satisfied with the two home games: “After the games in Yaroslavl I said I’d be satisfied with one home victory. To outplay Lokomotiv three games running would’ve been a mighty achievement, but I’m content. Although when we allowed that goal while short-handed and another soon after, I started to worry that we could be in for a bad evening, especially when I heard the score of the Atlant vs Severstal game. But the team pulled themselves together, above all the fourth line, who played superbly.”
It is no secret that Sykora’s opposite number, Vladimír Vůjtek, came to Minsk expecting to win both games, but clearly, as events unfolded, he was satisfied with achieving even half of what he had intended: “Today’s was a crucial game for us. If we had trailed 3-1 in the series, it would have been really tough to stay in the play-offs. Today I’m content. We started really well, we were mobile, put together some great moves, scored two goals, and we kept playing in that spirit right to the end. Apart from that, I took a chance with the goaltender: Kotschnew had a great game, and the team always plays better when they are confident their goal is in safe hands.”
(7) Dinamo Riga 2 OT
(2) Dynamo Moscow 1
Dinamo Riga lead the series 3-1
While the result brings back memories of the opening game in this series, today was different in that the eventual winner had allowed the opening goal. It surprised no-one that the Muscovites, above whose heads hangs the very real threat of being eliminated from the Gagarin Cup at the first stage for the second year running, kept their thoughts to themselves after the game. And it’s so surprise that the Riga camp was more forthcoming.
Defenseman Kristaps Sotnieks felt that the score did not fully reflect the character of today’s battle: “Today’s game wasn’t especially different from the one before. The only exception being that both teams played very cautiously, trying not to give away penalties. It was clear that the loser would be the first team to make a mistake, so we all tried to keep it as simple as possible.”
The big difference was indeed the reduction in the number of dismissals. A day earlier the two protagonists let their emotions get the better of them toward the end of the game, with both sides blaming the other for provoking them. Such scenes were absent today, and Sotnieks gave this explanation: “Right until the end today the score was too tight for anyone to start provoking anything. In fact, yesterday the Moscow guys also kept their discipline until we had increased our lead over them, so I think in future when it’s a very close game you shouldn’t have major brawls erupting.”
“Did you hear Leo Komarov’s words, promising that the Muscovites would hit the Riga guys hard?”
“I didn’t hear them. But this is hockey, and in this game who doesn’t get hit?”
While forward Girts Ankipans thought the main factor was his team having a stronger spirit: “Today we were second best in the first two periods, but then our character showed through and we turned it around. All the team re-grouped, began putting the opposition’s goal under pressure shift after shift, and that tactics brought us victory.”
“Physical play was never a feature of Dinamo Riga’s game.”
“Trust me, we have no problems now getting ready for action, physically or psychologically.”
“You scored a beautiful goal today. Do you score many like that?”
“In the play-offs it makes no difference how pretty the goal is. But I scored a similar one once in the Olympics, for Latvia against Russia.”
(6) Spartak Moscow 3
(3) SKA St.Petersburg 4
SKA win the series 4-0
Already from Game 2 this series began to stand apart from the others. As a result, SKA swiftly made clear the seriousness of their intentions and wasted no time in relentlessly breaking through into the Western Conference semi-finals, while Spartak become the first team for whom the time has come to sit back and take stock.
Dominik Hasek: “On the whole, it wasn’t a bad season. But when you come to judge a season, you always think about how the team did in the play-offs. Of course, that comes first. And right now we can’t be complacent, because we lost 0-4. Everyone needs to have a good think. What happened? We battled, it’s true, but it wasn’t enough. We made a lot of mistakes.”
Oleg Gubin: “Firstly, we didn’t get enough luck to win. Plus we were lacking in skill; there’s no denying that our opponents had the advantage on that score. In each game we were just lacking something. The games were even and yet we lost them. Three times we lost by a single goal, twice in overtime. So the 0-4 score in the series honestly doesn’t do us justice.”
Branko Radivojevic: “It was a good game today, but it’s turned out to be our last of the season. That hurt more than any other play-off defeat in my career. We didn’t expect anything like this. Before the series started I was confident Spartak could get through the first round.”
Roman Lyuduchin: “We fought right to the end. No-one can say we didn’t fight. What is left for us now? Just to get ready for next season. And to work on our mistakes, so that we don’t step on the same banana skin next year.”
(5) Severstal Cherepovets 1
(4) Atlant Mytishchi 8
Series tied 2-2
Atlant went on the rampage: in Game 4 the men of Mytishchi smashed in more goals than in the three previous games combined. Three of them came from Oleg Petrov, who clearly felt relieved not just for himself, but for the whole team: “It’s hard to expect to win when you’re not scoring. We played well yesterday, but the puck just wouldn’t go into the net. And Koshechkin had a fantastic game. Today we had a bit more luck, we managed to score, and the game turned out to be a success. I don’t get as many hat-tricks as I’d like. And to get one in the play-offs! I dreamed of getting just a goal, and here I bag a treble. I just came at the right place at the right time. Besides, two of the goals were scored into virtually an empty net.”
Milos Riha, the visitors’ head coach, also noticed some things in common with the preceding games: “We started really lively, just like yesterday, but we had more luck today. I think we deserved this win. Who deserved it? The whole team, but I’ll make a special mention of Petrov and Koval. Well, and of course Sergei Mozyakin gave us some sharpness in offense, especially in power play.”
His Cherepovets counterpart, Dmitry Kvartalnov, totally unexpectedly admitted that the very first goal his team allowed played a crucial role: “We didn’t start that badly in principle, but after Fedorov scored, a strange and slightly freaky goal, the team fell apart, shipped five goals, and from then on practically stopped playing.”
Despite it being a more than confident victory for Atlant, goaltender Vitaly Koval did not feel it was an easy one: “It’s hard to say which of the last two games was easier. There are no easy games in the play-offs. Today we had more luck with our finishing, so probably all of us had a big psychological boost. I’ve managed to get used to the playing style of Severstal’s attackers: they play with energy, always sneaking up on goal, very lively finishers who always get in the way of the goalie’s field of vision. It’s really tough against opponents like that; you have to keep a sharp lookout for the whole game.”
(8) Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 3
(1) Avangard Omsk 2
Neftekhimik lead the series 2-1
Today’s game followed the same script as both the others in this series: Neftekhimik take the lead, leaving Avangard to chase the game. Midway through the second period the Omsk men finally pulled level with their Nizhnekamsk, and only a further 10 minutes elapsed before the hosts were in front once again.
“That goal meant ‘game over’, in my view, it was the key moment of the game,” said the visitors’ attacker Vladimir Pervushin. “The Nizhnekamsk guys were a different team today: they surged forward, started playing a bit faster – all the same, they are playing at home. But as for us, we made a lot of mistakes, and were punished with three goals.”
Three and a half minutes before the end of regulation time it was home goalie Ivan Kasutin who was punished for throwing the puck. Raimo Summanen did not risk pulling the goaltender to gain a two-man advantage, and the choice of an ‘ordinary’ power play did not bear fruit.
“It was right: playing 5-on-4 is also a chance; but if Neftekhimik had scored into an empty net we would’ve had absolutely no chances left,” said Pervushin. “And what’s more, after that powerplay there was still a minute and a half to go – if you pull the goalie at that time, you keep the advantage of one extra skater; clearly the coaches saw it the same way.”
(7) Barys Astana 1
(2) Ak Bars Kazan 6
Ak Bars lead the series 3-0
In the third period of Game of the series the Barys players finally found a way past Petri Vehanen. Any joy was tempered, however, by the fact they were already trailing 0-3 and contrived to allow three more before the siren sounded.
“I’ve no complaints about the attitude and commitment of my team,” said the hosts’ head coach Andrei Khomutov. “But we were let down by a lack of discipline in our play. You simply can’t afford back away so much in a game against Ak Bars. And, of course, allowing four goals while short-handed, it’s hard to win. We are playing against one of the strongest teams in the League and we know that every mistake can cost us dear. So we need to concentrate more, and try to iron out these mistakes. We’ll get ready for tomorrow’s clash.”
But for Barys, tomorrow’s game could be their last of the season.
(6) Sibir Novosibirsk 2
(3) Salavat Yulaev Ufa 6
Salavat Yulaev lead the series 3-0
“For two periods this game was a tough one for us,” said Vyacheslav Bykov, the visitors’ head coach, at the press conference. “We were in front, but our opponents didn’t let us lift our heads. They created a lot of dangerous attacks in our zone when we lost track of the opposition. But in the end the team put it right, and I’m proud of the guys today.”
“For the second game running we’ve matched our opponents, played good hockey, led the scoring,” said Sibir’s head coach Andrei Tarasenko, echoing Bykov. “But we’ve been found wanting in the third period, which suggests tiredness, losing concentration for a fraction of a second is enough for these opponents. When fatigue sets in, skill takes over, and our opponents have a lot more skill than we do. So you get this kind of result.”
(5) Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk 4
(4) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 3
Yugra lead the series 2-1
In Khanty-Mansiysk Yugra edged in front of Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the series, and even more impressively hit three goals without reply in the first period of this game.
“I had no thoughts of substituting Georgy Gelashvili,” said visiting coach Kari Heikkila. “I don’t remember exactly what I said to the guys after the first period: I simply asked them to calm down. And in the second period things were noticeably better. Sadly, today we were unable to score more goals than the opposition, but there’s a whole new game tomorrow.”
“We were in a state of confusion in the second period,” said Sergei Shepelev, agreeing with his opposite number. “But in the break we reminded the guys that you have to battle from start to finish. I’m proud of the guys – they all understood and they stood their ground. It’s hard to pick out any individual player, because they all battled, to the same extent.”