Ak Bars and Dynamo Moscow became the latest teams to confirm their post-season commitments after shut-out wins on Thursday evening.
Ak Bars went first, facing off against old rival Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Kazan. The first period was scoreless, but only thanks to a virtuoso goaltending display from Vasily Koshechkin, who made 23 saves as the home team dominated from the off.
Mikhail Varnakov finally found a way past the keeper in the 27th minute, but the game remained in the balance until early in the third when Petr Vrana and Justin Azevedo scored two goals in a minute to put Ak Bars out of sight. Anders Nilsson made 24 saves for his shut-out.
In Moscow Dynamo weathered a tough first period at home to Neftekhimik before taking a 2-0 verdict. Maxim Solovyov finally put the home team in front just after the halfway mark and Kaspars Daugavins scored a late goal for the second game running. Goalie Alexander Lazushin made 35 saves to claim his second shut-out in three games.
The game was billed as a pre-cursor of the play-offs, with both teams expected to be serious contenders for silverware at the end of April, but neither side was at full strength as a mix of injuries and – perhaps – a conscious coaching decision to rotate the rosters saw some less familiar faces take to the ice.
But there was nothing unusual about the man who got the game-winning goal – Ilya Kovalchuk snapped a 1-1 tie late in the second period to celebrate the birth of his fourth child in style and continue his good record in these Army derby clashes.
Earlier Anton Burdasov had given SKA a third-minute lead before Sergei Andronov tied it up in the first period. Then a defensive error early in the third allowed Maxim Chudinov to emerge from the penalty box, win possession in center ice and set Evgeny Ketov on his way to goal number three and seal SKA’s win.
The Petersburg team has won two in a row against its Moscow rival and now trails CSKA by just three points as the regular season reaches its climax.
All the goalscorers in tonight’s game in Helsinki were Finnish. The teams traded first-period markers within 13 seconds of one another: Jere Sallinen opened the scoring for Jokerit but Sakari Salminen responded immediately. Then in the second period Jarkko Immonen scored off a Salminen assist to give Torpedo the lead, but once again the scores were tied almost immediately when Niklas Hagman struck 19 seconds later.
The gamewinner went to Juhamatti Aaltonen in the 28th minute but after a lively first half of the game there was no further scoring in the remainder as Jokerit did a professional job of closing out the win.
While the home team can prepare for the play-offs in encouraging form, Torpedo’s dismal run means it is in danger of missing out altogether. Defeat here drops the Nizhny Novgorod team to 10th, three points behind Vityaz but with a game in hand.
Sibir missed its chance to climb back up to second in the East, dropped a 2-3 verdict at Barys after giving up two third period goals. Nik Antropov and Roman Starchenko turned the game around in the 48th and 50th minutes after Patrik Hersley and Stepan Sannikov had given the visitor the edge.
Two goals early in the third period lifted Dinamo Riga to a 4-3 win at Severstal. The game was tied at 2-2 when Milan Jurcina and Aleksandrs Jerofejevs scored two in three minutes to put Dinamo in control. Andreas Thuresson pulled one back for Severstal but it wasn’t enough. Riga moves to 9th, two points outside the play-off spots.
Emil Galimov scored twice as a second-period blitz set Lokomotiv up for a 5-2 win over Ugra. The home team was already 1-0 up through Sergei Plotnikov when Galimov struck in the 34th and 37th minutes. Daniil Apalkov made it four before the intermission and there was no way back for Ugra. The visitor missed the chance to close the gap on Avtomobilist in the race for eighth in the East.
There weren’t many happy returns for the ex-Medvescak contingent at Dinamo Minsk as the Belarusians went down 4-2 in Zagreb. Edwin Hedberg gave the Bears an early lead but the game was decided in the latter part of the second period when Patrick Bjorkstrand, James Wright and Ville Leino stretched that lead to 4-0. Former Medvescak man Charles Linglet got one back in the third.
Nikita Soshnikov scored two late goals to snatch a 5-4 win for Atlant at Slovan. An absorbing game saw Soshnikov tie the scores at 4-4 just seven seconds after Matt Murley put the home team up, and he grabbed the winner on 56:27.