Andy Potts,
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SKA St. Petersburg 5 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 4 (OT)

(SKA leads the series 1-0)

SKA left it late – perilously so – to take the lead in this Western Conference Final series, snatching a dramatic equalizer with 10 seconds left to play, and going on to win it thanks to Patrik Hersley in overtime.

The game seemed to be all but gone when Lokomotiv moved 4-2 ahead thanks to a quick-fire salvo from Max Talbot and Denis Mosalyov early in the third period. But SKA held its nerve, continued to create chances and hauled itself back into contention thanks to another successful combination from Vadim Shipachyov and Nikita Gusev before Jarno Koskiranta’s second of the night tied the scores on 59:50.

SKA even overcame the loss of starting goalie Mikko Koskinen, who left the game 11 minutes into the extras due a problem with his kit. That brought Igor Shestyorkin to the crease for the first time in post-season, but the youngster offered no opportunities for Loko in his short spell on the ice

Hersley’s second goal of the night won it in the 73rd minute. The Swedish D-man, who only moved from Lokomotiv to SKA in the fall, got the slightest of touches at the near post to deflect Nikita Gusev’s shot away from Alexander Sudnitsin in the Lokomotiv net. Gusev, though, was very much the architect, dancing away from his opponent on the edge of the circle and creating a shooting lane for himself to test the Loko defense once again.

All of that came after SKA made the brighter start and, aided by penalty trouble for Loko, took the lead early in the game. It came in the seventh minute, on the power play, when Anton Belov fired in a shot from the blue line. Jarno Koskiranta got himself free in the midst of a triangle of Loko D-men and swung out his stick to prod the puck down and past Sudnitsin in the visitor’s net.

It wasn’t until late in the period that Lokomotiv began to start asking questions of Koskinen, but hopes of gaining a toehold on the game were hampered by regularly penalties against the visitor. Loko’s offense was somewhat disjointed, and the home team looked the more likely to score further goals. But a flare-up in the 26th minute that saw Sergei Shirokov called for slashing and cause a fight in the process served to disrupt the rhythm of the game. 

Once the dust settled, Loko found a way back into contention. Rushan Rafikov’s long forward pass was flicked on by Yegor Averin on the red line and Dmitry Lugin went racing into the SKA zone on a two-on-one break that he converted himself. Two minutes later, Averin hit the net himself, taking Ilya Lyubushkin’s pass and surprising Koskinen with a shot from the deep slot. Lokomotiv led 2-1, SKA was left wondering how the game had suddenly leapt out of its grasp.

Hersley briefly tied the scores in the 46th minute. His slap shot from the point – timed at 145km/h – came in as Loko’s Andrei Loktionov obscured Sudnitsin’s view of the stick. The puck beat the goalie low to his right.

But Lokomotiv was scoring in flurries, and was soon back in front. Max Talbot broke down the left, exchanged passes with Petri Kontiola in the center and fired inside Koskinen’s near post from close range as Yegor Yakovlev sprawled in front of him in a desperate bid to block. Delight for the traveling support turned into delirium less than a minute later when Denis Mosalyov made it 4-2. The former Dynamo forward – like his head coach Alexei Kudashov, a Gagarin Cup winner under current SKA chief Oleg Znarok – had a simple finish off Emil Galimov’s pass after Vladislav Gavrikov forced a turnover as SKA tried to clear its blue line.

That should have been enough for Loko to win it in regulation, especially after Vadim Shipachyov failed to test Sudnitsin with a good chance in front of the net. The forward went on the backhand, and could not generate enough power to overcome the goalie. It felt like SKA’s moment had passed, but in reality Shipachyov’s time was still to come. Another power play, and the forward linked up with Gusev once again, picking out the killer pass to enable his team-mate to shoot home. Then came the big drama. Koskinen watching from the bench, SKA throwing everything forward and, when time was almost up, Belov drilled the puck into the danger zone one last time. Koskiranta collected it and, with two touches, put it beyond Sudnitsin to tie the game in dramatic fashion.

23.03.17. KHL Championship 2016/17. Playoffs. SKA (St.Petersburg) - Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)

Andy Potts,
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