Both favorites in the Western Conference semi-finals avenged their home defeats.

(7) Dinamo Riga 4
(1) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 8

Lokomotiv lead the series 2-1
In Game 3 of this series Dinamo Riga suffered a surprise hammering at home to Lokomotiv. The bare statistics of the massacre tell us that both Riga goaltenders saved fewer than 80% of the shots they faced, while only one player in the team, defenseman Guntis Galvins, achieved even a neutral rating.

“We came to Riga on a mission to win,” said Lokomotiv head coach Vladimír Vůjtek, “and it pleases me greatly to manage this in our first game on the road.”

The Yaroslavl men did indeed give a superb performance in which their foreign imports stole the show, scoring seven of their eight goals. Swedish defenseman Daniel Tjarnqvist set things rolling in only the sixth minute, firing the puck from the blue line straight into his fellow countryman Mikael Tellqvist’s net. To prove this was no fluke, Daniel added two more long-range strikes in the second period. “I just tried to get the puck in the net,” he explained, “and the circumstances helped me. Things went right for me.”

Vladimír Vůjtek also reflected on Tjarnqvist’s success, conceding that “all through the second period Lokomotiv put away practically every chance they created.” The five goals the visitors struck in an eight-minute spell in the second period put the outcome beyond doubt.

“In terms of playing discipline we lost it completely in the second period,” Julius Supler admitted. “What’s more, three of the goals we allowed were scored by Lokomotiv defensemen, which sums up the performance of our attackers.”

“In the second period we repeated our mistakes from Game 1 of this series,” said Riga defenseman Rodrigo Lavins, agreeing with his coach. “We were over-elaborate in offense, so we let our opponents break away 2-on-1 and even 3-on-1. Playing wide-open hockey against Lokomotiv doesn’t work. Give them a single chance to counter-attack and you can be sure they’ll take it. Our defenders need to reproduce the hockey they played in Game 2 when we didn’t leave any gaps. Good defensive play and patience in waiting for your chances – that’s our recipe for the next clash.”

Early in the third period Dinamo reduced the losing margin to three goals, but could manage no more. Instead, they were hit with an eighth goal when Michal Barinka scored into an empty net.

“Before these away games the coach told us, "Guys, you have to score as many as you can." And any team would love to score as many as we did today! Probably, it was just our turn to have a good day in attack. Was it down to something new from the coaches? I don’t think so, since we made no special changes. It was just our day today, and that’s good,” said the hero of the day, Tjarnqvist.

Margita Sprancmane, Riga

(4) Atlant Moscow Region 0
(3) SKA St. Petersburg 3
SKA lead the series 2-1
This game, which saw SKA reclaim the lead in the series, was a real shot in the arm for the Army Men, following a Game 2 which suggested they had little chance of success after a near-flawless display from Atlant. “We understood only too well what they did to us in the previous game,” said SKA forward Maxim Rybin, “and we had the necessary inquest. Most of all, we had to be a lot livelier in offense and not allow our opponents to break away.”

Maxim, who hit the game’s third and final goal, stood out not only on the ice, but also among the press and fans after the game. His beard suggests he had stopped shaving some time before the play-offs began. “Amongst other things, they’ve already given me a nickname – the lion,” boasted the forward.

While Rybin entertained the journalists, in another corner stood a gloomy Oleg Petrov and he was not afraid to admit that his team had deserved this defeat. “For some reason we were unprepared for this game,” said the Atlant veteran. “The main tragedy for us was the huge amount of individual duels we lost. We just didn’t find our usual physical game, and that quickly had an impact on the outcome.”

We should note that there was one bone-crunching tackle in the game, and it seemed to have an influence on the result. With the score still at 0-0, Evgeny Artyukhin met former SKA defenseman Andrei Zyuzin with such force that the latter crumpled to the ice and was unable to get to his feet. The officials saw nothing illegal, and the hosts grew more and more active.

“I know how the Atlant players feel,” conceded SKA forward Maxim Sushinsky. “I honestly wouldn’t want to come up against this guy, it’s terrifying when he’s marauding somewhere behind your back. But I wouldn’t want to complain about someone playing dirty. Believe me, I get a good bashing too, although maybe that particular tackle set the tone for the game.”

After the Army men had taken the lead, Atlant had ample opportunity to change the course of the game. Fedor Fedorov created two excellent chances for himself but was unable to capitalize, and then a defenseman got a stick in the way as Oleg Petrov shot at an empty net. It was already on the cards that SKA would not surrender their advantage, and would only add to it.

Milos Riha, head coach of the Moscow Region outfit, tried to rally his team, shouting at the players and also at the officials, but to no avail. He gave his post-game analysis: “If it wasn’t for Konstantin Barulin, we’d have already been four goals down in the first period. And overall we looked a bit unprepared for this game. Only in the second period was our hockey good enough, and even then we didn’t manage to score.”

His opposite number Vaclav Sykora was already talking of the Conference final: “This victory is a step toward qualifying for the next round. We were better prepared for this game than our opponents were, and that got us the win. Although it did become tough after we opened the scoring, but Jakub Stepanek was brilliant in goal.”

Also congratulating SKA on the victory was none other than tennis legend Elena Dementieva, who was personally supporting Maxim Afinogenov. Two players out with injury, Sergei Zubov and Alexei Yashin, also travelled with the SKA camp. “I really want to help the team and it is unbelievably hard right now watching from the stands,” said Yashin. “But at the moment even I can’t say when I’ll get back to work. Besides, any wound heals faster when you see a victory like this.”

Alexei Shevchenko, Moscow

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