Astana (16:30 msk)
The fourth game of any playoff series is liable to be a tipping point. For some, it secures a sweep, for others it salvages a last chance. In the Western Conference Semi-finals, though, game four saw Lokomotiv roar back into contention with a big win to tie the series, while Dynamo suffered another loss at home and now trails 1-3 before heading to St. Petersburg later this week.
(Series tied at 2-2)
Lokomotiv went goal crazy in the third period of this game to snatch a big victory against CSKA. The margin of the Railwaymen’s success suggests that not only have they tied the series, they may also have tipped the momentum in their favor as the action heads back to Moscow on Thursday.
Initially, though, it was a very different game as CSKA had the better of the opening exchanges. Former Lokomotiv forward Geoff Platt did little to endear himself to his former fans when he poached an instinctive goal late in the first period to give CSKA the lead. The visitor had rarely posed a serious threat in a very even game, with even the Army Men’s sole power play chance barely ruffling Alexei Murygin’s composure. But when Artyom Voroshilo fired in a hopeful shot from long range, Murygin allowed a big rebound and after the goalie stopped Vladimir Zharkov’s attempt, Platt pounced to shoot home the opening goal.
For Loko it was a case of frustration after an opening stanza that had seen the visitor largely stifled – albeit at the cost of calming the home offense at the same time. The best chance for the host came on the power play, with Max Talbot testing Viktor Fasth as he got a deflection on Staffan Kronwall’s shot, but after the Railwaymen found their special teams so potent against Dinamo Minsk, CSKA showed signs of blunting that weapon.
In the second period, however, the home team finally got that PP back on the scoreboard. Max Talbot’s equalizer wasn’t the prettiest goal of the season - he forced the puck home from close range after Fasth blocked Jakub Nakladal’s long-range effort and Brandon Kozun’s attempt on the rebound – but for a Lokomotiv crowd that could sense the series starting to slip away it was undoubtedly one of the most important.
The significance of that strike was underlined in the third period as Loko ran riot, firing home four unanswered goals to power to victory. Pavel Kraskovsky got the all-important 2-1 goal in the 44th minute, left unattended on the slot to fire home Yegor Korshkov’s pass from behind the net. Then the Loko power play struck once again, taking just four seconds to turn Artyom Sergeyev’s interference call into a goal. Petri Kontiola won the face-off, Nakladal delivered a thumping shot to beat Fasth.
Lokomotiv’s evening got even better in the 52nd minute when Alexander Polunin squeezed home the fourth from a tight angle before further penalty trouble for CSKA saw Kozun complete the scoring late on. An emphatic victory to level the series … and possibly hand the momentum to the team from Yaroslavl.
(SKA leads the series 3-1)
Dynamo Moscow likes to include a remix of cult Russian rock song ‘Gruppa Krovi’ in its gameday music. The refrain about ‘wish me luck in the battle’ fits the context, but a less familiar line about not seeking ‘victory at any price’ seems slightly odd, especially when the post-season stakes are high. Unfortunately for the Blue-and-Whites, Tuesday’s game was more about the latter as Dynamo failed to take the lead despite turning the screws in the early stages of this game. Even D-man Andrei Mironov – hardly a regular scorer – got in on the act as he slalomed through the visiting defense only to fail against the pads of Mikko Koskinen. But chances for Denis Kokarev and Yakov Rylov all came to naught and when a SKA breakaway ended in a penalty on Konstantin Gorovikov midway through the stanza, the pattern of play changed.
Dynamo successfully killed that penalty, but struggled to regain its early momentum. SKA posed more of a threat and took the lead in the 17th minute when Jarno Koskiranta fed Anton Belov for a powerful shot from the left-hand face-off circle. That goal came seconds after second home PK; Oleg Znarok’s fist pump said much for his relief at gaining an edge in a tight game.
The middle stanza could have been the moment for Kokarev to turn the game around. Twice the Dynamo forward threatened: in the 25th minute his shot beat Koskinen and bounced off both posts before rebounding to safety. Moments later, he robbed Dinar Khafizullin deep in SKA territory, but the goalie’s pads kept SKA ahead. Finally, Dynamo’s experienced forward did find the net, tying the game in the 37th minute after Artyom Podshendyalov led a rush from his own zone and Kokarev’s shot good a helpful deflection off Patrik Hersley. Some good luck in the battle at last.
But all too soon, fortune swung back behind the visitor. Sergei Shirokov, whose previous game saw him on the receiving end of a brutal hit from Lukas Kaspar, hit Dynamo where it hurts in the last minute of the period. The Blue-and-Whites gave up possession after a long but unthreatening spell in SKA’s zone and Alexander Barabanov looked to capitalize. He fired the puck to the net, and Shirokov was on hand to force home the rebound before staring down a section of home support. After a check on the video, the goal was given and SKA was back in front.
The final period was another case of little luck and missed chances for the home team. Going forward, things looked good until the final shot. Daniil Tarasov and Martins Karsums were both thwarted by Koskinen, while the visiting defense did well to hold the host at arm’s length and restrict the bulk of the shooting chances to distant efforts from D-men. Then, almost inevitably, came the sucker punch. A SKA power play and a decisive goal for Hersley. Belov and Shirokov combined to find the Swede at the top of the circle and his slapper made it over Alexander Yeryomenko’s glove to end Dynamo's hopes. The same player was involved again as Evgeny Ketov fired into the empty net for 4-1; SKA looks poised to wrap up this series.