With one game of the regular season to play, all the pairings for the first round of the Western Conference knock-out phase are known. The two Army sides, SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow are set to renew hostilities, while Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod face Dinamo Riga and there’s a clash of the near namesakes Dynamo Moscow and Dinamo Minsk. The only unresolved question is which of Atlant and Severstal will claim fourth spot and start that series with home ice advantage.
In the East, however, it’s very different. While Traktor Chelyabinsk and Avangard Omsk have secured the top two spots, there is a three-way race for third involving Metallurg Magnitogorsk, whose 2-6 home defeat to Ak Bars Kazan was its fourth in a row and puts the Kazan side level on points with Salavat Yulaev two points further back. There’s a similar scrap for positions 6-8, where Amur, Barys and Yugra are separated by just three points.
Finally, the race for the Kontinental Cup - awarded to the top team in the regular season - is also going to the wire. Traktor leads SKA by a single point, and victory over Severstal on Sunday would sends the honors to Chelyabinsk.
A couple of hours later SKA took to the ice in St. Petersburg and handed a 5-2 thumping to Amur Khabarovsk. It was an even battle to start with, and Amur twice led in the first period. But in the end two goals each for Petr Prucha and Patrick Thoresen ensured the points stayed beside the Baltic.
The battle for second place in each conference was also resolved, with Avangard clinching its divisional title in a showdown with Salavat Yulaev before Torpedo extended Lev’s miserable run to six straight defeats.
In Omsk the home side recovered from the shock of conceding to Sergei Zinovyev after just 52 seconds to run out 5-2 winners. Alexander Nesterov’s goal late in the first period proved to be the game winner; Igor Volkov’s last-second empty-netter saw him finish with 1+1.
Metallurg Magnitogorsk have gone from being one of the form teams to one of the strugglers, and a sorry second period show at home to Ak Bars condemned Magnitka to a fourth straight defeat. Ak Bars rattled in four without reply on the way to a 6-2 victory, with ominous signs that goalscorers Alexei Morozov, Danis Zaripov and Finnish pair Jarkko Immonen and Niko Kapanen are coming into form as the business end of the campaign approaches. For Magnitka, Sunday’s game against Salavat Yulaev could be the difference between third place and fifth in the conference.
Dynamo Moscow and Dinamo Minsk are set to meet in the play-offs, and Friday’s evidence suggests it could be a cracking series. The two sides traded five goals in a breathless first period, with the Moscow team twice taking the lead only to trail 3-2 thanks to Zbynek Irgl’s goal on 14:06. The second session was goalless, but after the hosts laid siege to the Belarusian goal in the final period Denis Tolpeko fired the game into overtime on 53:57. The Russians had the best chance to win it, but the game went to a shoot-out where the Minsk side prevailed thanks to Geoff Platt.
Around the league
The clash of the basement clubs saw Vityaz Chekhov battle back from 0-3 to beat Avtomobilist in overtime. Evgeny Timkin added to his growing reputation with the decisive goal in Yekaterinburg.
Yugra Khanty-Mansisyk missed out in overtime against Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, with Denis Arkhipov separating the sides after a 4-4 draw in regulation time.
Alexei Tsvetkov gave Severstal a shoot-out win over Barys in Astana after Vadim Shipachyov’s second of the evening tied it at 3-3 on 59:48.
And Severstal’s play-off opponent, Atlant, also had a shoot-out in Moscow Region before Dmitry Upper’s goal saw off Sibir Novosibirsk after a 1-1 tie.
Two goals in eight seconds set Dinamo Riga on the way to a 4-1 victory over Metallurg Novokuznetsk. The home side was trailling to Vladimir Loginov’s strike when Mihelis Redlihs (32:00) and Marcel Hossa (32:08) turned the game around.