Both Western Conference favorites score a 100% record on the road.

(7) Dinamo Riga 2
(1) Lokomotiv 6
Lokomotiv lead the series 3-1
Shell-shocked Dinamo players may well wonder whether their own native ice is playing a cruel practical joke on them, after Lokomotiv claimed a second straight win in Riga, with both of them by a four-goal margin.

Lokomotiv’s victory allowed two of their players to improve their personal bests. Before the game was even three minutes old Pavol Demitra struck the first of the visitors’ four power play goals of the evening from six attempts, and it was a career record eleventh straight cup game in which Demitra has picked up points.

“Our play was a bit calmer today,” said a relaxed Vladimír Vůjtek at the press conference, “helped by the two quick goals at the start of the first period. But we were ahead of the play all through the game, not just in the first period. I think we deserved the victory.”

The sixth and final goal past the hapless Latvians was hit by Karel Rachunek, improving on the record he had already set as the highest-scoring defenseman in any play-off series spanning all Russian championships. Rachunek now has eight goals to his name, and the Gagarin Cup campaign is far from over.

To Lokomotiv’s six goals the Riga men could only reply with two, both from Janis Sprukts. After the game, he said that his team should put the two hefty defeats behind them: “You think it’s only our supporters hurt by this? No, it’s stung all of us. When we fell behind, we switched to more open hockey in an attempt to get back in the game, but it didn’t work out. We fixed a lot of our mistakes from the last game, then we went and made new ones – allowing two goals while short-handed at the very start of the game, and that crippled us.”

Riga’s play while at uneven strength certainly left a lot to be desired. Coach Julius Supler was less than happy at being asked the reasons for the malaise: “Have you seen our statistics? In the play-offs we have an excellent power play percentage! It’s not every day your opponents manage to score four times in power play, but that’s a different question entirely.”

Then Dinamo Riga’s coach wondered out loud whether his players are better off playing in Yaroslavl than on their own ice: “Maybe on the road the nerves will vanish. And if they are calmer, that’ll help their game.”

Sprukts did not entirely agree with his boss’s words about his team’s psychology: “We weren’t tense at all before today’s game. The only bad thing was that we started slowly and Lokomotiv were more mobile. But we’ll try to do everything possible to get back into this series. No-one in the team is giving up and no-one has started packing for their vacation. I personally think we have to battle with every single shift and then it’ll all come good.”

The Yaroslavl men left their changing room in a celebratory mood, and it seemed the only thing that could calm them down was their manager’s warning that the team bus was about to set off.

“You never get a simple game with this Riga team, “said goaltender Dimitrij Kotschnew, who at the start of the second period had picked up a two-minute penalty for roughing, resulting in a goal against his team. “I’m still not sure about my penalty, whether there was provocation… I’ll have to see the video, so as not to make false accusations against my opponent. As for the skaters I have just one request: for them to play exactly the same way in the next game.”

Hard to argue with those words, but all the same the Lokomotiv men prefer not to jump the gun, and are looking no further than Game 5. “We took our chances really well, so some might say this series is easier for us than the first against Dinamo Minsk,” admitted Alexei Mikhnov, ”but that’s not the case. Even though we’ve managed to score a lot of goals and not allow many, every game against Riga is very tough.”

Margita Sprancmane, Riga

(4) Atlant 1
(3) SKA 2 ОТ
SKA lead the series 3-1
SKA certainly showed character in this encounter, managing to save the game with just 12 seconds remaining and then sealing victory in overtime. There was a feeling that Atlant had learned their lesson from the previous defeat. In particular, the hosts made it crystal clear that they were not to be intimidated, and tried to mete out punishment to visiting forward Evgeny Artyukhin at every opportunity. Granted, they did not always succeed, but Atlant’s fighting spirit had the desired effect: they duly opened the scoring and in the end were a whisker away from victory.

Making his return to the Atlant roster today was Jan Marek. Having moved from CSKA at the end of the regular season, the Czech forward had trouble finding his feet at his new club and he possessed the worst efficiency rating in the team. He was little more than anonymous in tonight’s proceedings.

“In home games you must never hand the initiative to the opposition,” was the Moscow Region team’s head coach Milos Riha’s words an hour and a half before this game. “In the last game our play was fine in the first period, but then we let them score. Now we must keep our concentration for the whole game.”

The coach was obviously aware of where to expect problems, but what could he do to guard against the shot from Denis Denisov 12 seconds before the final siren? Nothing. Indeed, no-one could have done anything to stop it. The Petersburg defenseman struck the puck goalwards, but there were skaters and the goaltender between him and the goal, and yet somehow the puck still found the net. “I just hit and hoped,” smiled Denis. “There was very little time, and I thought the siren was about to sound. I remember now, I shot at the goal, thinking maybe someone would deflect it, but it just turned out perfect.”

At the post-game press conference SKA boss Vaclav Sykora recalled the tense first period, in which his team went a goal behind: “We were very often short-handed in the first period, but all the same we survived it. Yes, we let them score, but you can come back from one goal down. Then we had to chase the game, but I’m happy my guys showed their character.”

Whereas Atlant, in contrast, wavered. Overtime was brought to an end when the Atlant defensemen produced a schoolboy error, forcing Konstantin Barulin, who had been brilliant all evening, to charge out of his goal, and a grateful Sergei Brylin sent the puck into the unguarded net.

“This win will help us recover more quickly after a really tough game,” affirmed Brylin. “We expended so much energy, but the victory makes you forget about your tiredness. If we had lost, it would’ve been much worse.”

Milos Riha, on the other hand, was ghostly pale: “In the first period we gave our opponents no breathing space at all. The shot count was 19-2 in our favor. And it is a real shame that we only scored one goal. And in the end SKA had luck on their side. What did I feel when they scored against us in regulation time? There was no time to think, you see, we had to get the players ready with overtime looming.”

We should mention that this time around it was an SKA player on the receiving end of a wonderful, bone-crunching collision: Vadim Khomitsky’s tackle on Petr Prucha was firm but fair, and left the latter needing some time on the bench to recuperate. “Our opponents played it tough from the very start of the game,” said Prucha. “Maybe they took us by surprise with this. That collision? The officials judged it to be fair and I’m not going to argue with them.”

In a later episode, deep into the third period, Maxim Rybin started a brawl with Oleg Petrov, and despite being handed two more minutes in the penalty box than his sparring partner incurred, he looked far from upset. And no wonder. Maxim seemed to spur his team on and, who knows, maybe it was his energy that dragged his team back into the game. With this kind of spirit, SKA will go far.

Alexei Shevchenko, Moscow

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