It’s almost time for the All-Star Game - and Thursday’s regular season clashes produced a few exhibitions of attacking hockey. There were big wins for SKA and Barys, while the clash in Minsk saw an all-star style scoreline of 8-4 in favor of Salavat Yulaev. But there were some tighter contests as well, with Ak Bars and Dinamo Riga winning by the odd goal in five and a late flourish in Slovakia to lift Lev Poprad past Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.
Ak Bars in form
Ak Bars Kazan held off a late CSKA rally to win 3-2 on Moscow - but could have made it more comfortable with better finishing. The visitors made a perfect start when Oleg Petrov opened the scoring on 1:55; the Army’s defense caught waiting for an offside whistle which never came as Niklas Persson collected a pass on the blue line. Ak Bars might have extended that advantage in a good first half, but Alexei Morozov wasted a great chance when sent through on goal and two powerplays were wasted.
Penalties caught up with the Tatars after the restart when Alexei Badyukov reacted fastest to a rebound to tie the game, only for Konstantin Korneyev to deflect the puck past unsighted goaltender Rastislav Stana following Alexei Morozov’s shot. A flowing breakaway involving Morozov seemed to wrap it up on 48:24, with Ilya Nikulin firing home the 3-1 goal.
But CSKA ensured an anxious finish when Denis Parshin shot home the second powerplay goal of the night on 55:08, only for some resolute defense to see Ak Bars over the line in a performance which suggested one of the league’s strongest teams is moving into form as the play-offs approach.
Play-offs for Petersburg
It’s not a huge surprise, but SKA St. Petersburg became the first team to mathematically clinch a play-off spot with a 5-1 win at Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. The comfortable win was kick-started by Tony Martensson, whose opener was set up by SKA new boy Vladimir Tarasenko. Another youngster, Viktor Tikhonov, finished with 1+1 on the night, as top showed its class against the league’s bottom club.
Salavat’s goal-den show
There was no shortage of entertainment in Minsk, but not many of the 15,000 crowd would have enjoyed Dinamo’s defending in an 8-4 defeat. The first period offered few clues of what was to come: Dinamo went ahead after 14 seconds, and Salavat Yulaev leveled on 5:52. But the second session was a blast for the visiting forwards, with five different names going on the scoresheet before in barely 15 minutes. Alexander Radulov enjoyed himself more than most, returning 1+2, before Dinamo pulled one back on the hooter. There was still time for Antti Pihlstrom and Igor Grigorenko to get their second goals of the evening as the sides traded four more goals in the third.
Marcel Hossa’s form for Dinamo Riga two years ago has made the Slovak forward an honorary Latvian, and on his return to the Baltic he’s back in game-winning action. He finished with 2+1 as Dinamo won 3-2 at Traktor, moving closer to a play-off spot and leaving the race to lead the Eastern Conference wide open. The home side twice pegged back a Dinamo lead, but could do nothing about Hossa’s winner on 45:35 - exactly one minute after the second equalizer.
Goal-hungry defenseman Kevin Dallman struck twice as Barys Astana thumped Atlant Moscow Region 6-1 to boost its play-off hopes. For half the game, things were close: the teams were tied at 1-1 on 26:50, but after Alexei Litvinenko put Barys back in front 23 seconds later the balance tipped decisively in the hosts’ favor.
Two goals in the last two minutes completed a 3-1 win for Lev Poprad against Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Lubos Bartecko made it 2-1 on 57:58 and almost immediately Jaroslav Kristek scored an empty netter to wrap up the win.