Andy Potts,
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A confident 2-0 victory saw SKA overcome Dynamo Moscow in game five of the teams’ Western Conference Semi-final and advance to the next stage. But the other Army Men, from CSKA, face a battle to join their comrades after losing at home to Lokomotiv and slipping 2-3 down in the series.

SKA marches into Conference Final

SKA St. Petersburg 2 Dynamo Moscow 0

(SKA wins the series 4-1)

SKA advanced to the Western Conference final for the third year in a row after ending Dynamo’s resistance in game five.

The visitor, shocked by the hospitalization of head coach Sergei Oreshkin on the eve of the game, went into action with Vladimir Vorobyov standing in behind the bench. However, Vorobyov oversaw a struggle for his charges. Evgeny Ketov set the tone when he hit the post in the second minute, while at the other end there were few opportunities to take the puck to Mikko Koskinen’s net in the first two periods.

SKA dominated, outshooting Dynamo 16-4 in both of those sessions, but for a long time it could not find a way past Alexander Yeryomenko. The veteran goalie, twice the inspiration behind Gagarin Cup wins for the Blue-and-Whites, held firm against the onslaught until the 35th minute when the home team’s persistence paid off at last. Patrik Hersley, increasingly influential in this post season, took a pass from Nikita Gusev and shot at Yeryomenko. But the Swede gathered the rebound and had the composure to return the puck to Gusev and the forward had little difficulty in catching the goalie out of position.

Once ahead, SKA quickly increased its lead. Artyom Zub’s shot from the blue line found Ilya Kovalchuk right in front of Yeryomenko, and the goalie had no chance to react as Kovy deflected the puck into the net. Two periods played, two goals in front and SKA was on its way to the final four.

Dynamo tried to raise its offensive efforts in the third period, and finally began to give Koskinen something to think about. Alexei Tsvetkov tested the goalie from a good position early on, Maxim Karpov – whose hat-trick to win the first game of this series feels a long time ago now – hit the post as he emerged from behind the net. But those efforts came to naught, Koskinen completed a shut-out with 20 saves and SKA marches on to face CSKA or Lokomotiv when the Conference Final begins in a week’s time.

For Dynamo, playoff defeats to SKA are becoming something of a habit. The Moscow team twice defeated its rival from the Northern Capital on its way to those Gagarin Cup wins of 2012 and 2013, but has now lost out in four successive post seasons. This season, for the first time, former Dynamo head coach Oleg Znarok was the mastermind of his former club’s downfall – an extra sting in the tail for the Muscovites and further grounds for SKA fans to hope that the club can add to its 2015 triumph by the end of April.

16.03.17. KHL Championship 2016/17. Playoffs. SKA (St.Petersburg) - Dynamo (Moscow)

Sudnitsin’s saves frustrate CSKA

CSKA Moscow 1 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 2

(Lokomotiv leads the series 3-2)

It’s advantage Lokomotiv as the Railwaymen snatched a vital victory in Moscow to move ahead in this series for the first time. Two first-period goals put the visitor on track for a win in game five, and moved the team to within one game of returning to the final four for the first time since 2014’s Western Conference Final defeat to Lev Prague.

For CSKA, a beaten grand finalist last season, the pressure is on. Dmitry Kvartalnov’s team must go to Yaroslavl on Saturday and win if it is to continue pursuing its dream of Gagarin Cup glory.

The game was won by Loko duo Vladislav Gavrikov and Yegor Averin. They both tallied a goal and an assist in the opening stanza, taking their combined playoff tally to 12 points and setting up a winning lead for the visitor.

The opening goal came in the 14th minute as Gavrikov turned defense into offense before feeding Andrei Loktionov. He picked out a diagonal pass for Averin at the far post, and the forward beat goalie Viktor Fasth to score with a backhand from close range.

The same line combined again on the power play to double the Railwaymen’s lead three minutes before the first intermission. This time Averin won the puck behind the net and fed Gavrikov out in front for the second goal of the night. Gavrikov almost added a third early in the middle session, but saw his 22nd-minute attempt bounce to safety off the piping.

CSKA, rattled, looked for a response and dominated the remaining two periods. But Alexander Sudnitsin, preferred to Alexei Murygin in the Loko net, proved hard to beat. The home team’s only goal of the game arrived late in the middle session. It was credited to Andrei Svetlakov, after the youngster deflected the puck past Sudnitsin, but the hard work came from Valery Nichushkin after he forced his way into a shooting position and sent a low effort skidding along the ice while the goalie was screened.

The final stanza saw plenty of effort from CSKA, with Lokomotiv limited to just two shots on goal. But Sudnitsin was on top of the situation and kept his team in front. The goalie finished with 38 saves, delighting the small, unexpected group of South African Lokomotiv fans who came to the CSKA Arena in Moscow and putting his team to within one victory of clinching the series. Game six takes place in Yaroslavl on Saturday.

16.03.17. KHL Championship 2016/17. Playoffs. CSKA (Moscow) - Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)

Andy Potts,
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