Andy Potts,
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SKA St. Petersburg 4 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 1

(SKA leads the series 2-0)

For the second game running, two goals from a former Lokomotiv player helped SKA come from behind to win in the Western Conference Final series. This time it was Sergei Plotnikov who delivered a double dose of trouble for Lokomotiv, the team he represented for three seasons for 2012-2015. His game-winner was a spectacular coast-to-coast effort, one of several highlights on a good day for SKA that also saw Ilya Kovalchuk score his 150th goal in Russian Championship play and Mikko Koskinen produced one of the saves of the playoffs.

Yet the early exchanges were uncomfortable for SKA. The visitor, which had been just 10 seconds away from winning the opening game of the series before giving up a late equalizer and losing in overtime, was buoyed by the return of Brandon Kozun. The Canadian, who missed out on Thursday due to injury, helped inspire Lokomotiv’s offense in a lively first period in which Alexei Kudashov’s men dominated play.

Indeed, it was only down to some superb goaltending from Koskinen that SKA escaped with just one goal in its net in the opening stanza. The Finn was hugely impressive, never more so than his stunning 16th-minute stick save to deny Denis Mosalyov after Daniil Apalkov’s defense-splitting pass left the goalie exposed. Mosalyov went high as Koskinen sprawled back into position and got his stick up to deflect the puck over the bar.

Lokomotiv did open the scoring moments later, though, clinically converting a power play chance when Andrei Loktionov and Yegor Averin combined neatly to set up Dmitry Lugin for a shot at the unguarded side of Koskinen’s net. Not even the flying Finn could retrieve that one, and Loko went into the intermission 1-0 up.

But it also began the second stanza one man down, and SKA took advantage quickly as Kovalchuk enjoyed another landmark moment. Vadim Shipachyov emerged from behind the net with the puck, and his pass sat up invitingly for Kovy to unleash a wrister from the right-hand face-off spot. Alexander Sudnitsin had no chance as the puck beat him on the blocker side and the home team had something to celebrate at last.

Ordinarily, Kovalchuk’s milestone would have been the champagne moment, but Plotnikov had other ideas. His spectacular coast-to-coast effort in the 40th minute outshone his team-mate’s impressive achievement. With the teams playing 4-on-4, Plotnikov decided to take the game to his former club all by himself. Starting on his own goalline, the forward set off. Two Loko forwards went to meet him on the blue; Plotnikov breezed past as if they weren’t there. Two D-men also offered little resistance as a dangle took the forward past Jakub Nakladal and sent him in on goal. A backhand finish was too good for Sudnitsin. SKA was in front … and in some style.

The Army Men wrapped up the game with two further goals midway through the third period, and Plotnikov was involved in both. First, his diagonal pass picked out Nikolai Prokhorkin at the far post and that was 3-1. Then Sergei Shirokov’s end-to-end pass released Plotnikov for a one-on-one with Sudnitsin; there was little doubt about the outcome of that duel as the impressive Plotnikov made it 4-1.

After former Loko D-man Patrik Hersley scored four points in the opening game of this series, Plotnikov finished with three points against his old club today. The consolation for Lokomotiv might be that there is no other player on the SKA roster who has recently moved from Yaroslavl to Petersburg and might be looking to continue that vengeful streak when the action moves to Lokomotiv’s ice on Monday.

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

Andy Potts,
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