Andy Potts,
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Avtomobilist moved into top spot in the Eastern Conference when it beat Dynamo Moscow 4-3 in its final game of 2017. That win, coupled with Ak Bars’ 4-1 loss at Sibir, put the Motormen one point clear at the top of the table going into the New Year. Neftekhimik’s overtime win at Avangard keeps it level on points with Ak Bars, while Avangard head coach Andrei Skabelka left his position after the game. Salavat Yulaev’s overtime success at Ugra moves it to within two points of the lead in the Chernyshev Division.

The big news in the West came from Minsk, where Dinamo blasted four goals in three minutes to stun SKA. The home team eventually won it 6-3.

Tough start for Razin at Admiral

Admiral Vladivostok 0 Kunlun Red Star 2 (0-1, 0-0, 0-1)

Andrei Razin’s first game as head coach at Admiral did not go according to plan when his new team was blanked by Kunlun.

It took less than five minutes for Red Star to open the scoring – Brandon Yip capitalizing after an error from defenseman Renat Mamashev – and Admiral’s much-changed roster was unable to find a way past visiting goalie Magnus Hellberg.

The Swede finished with 28 saves to collect his sixth shut-out of the season; Lucas Lessio wrapped up the win with an empty net goal for Kunlun in the dying seconds.

Avangard loss prompts Skabelka’s departure

Avangard Omsk 2 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 3 OT (0-2, 2-0, 0-0, 1-0)

A fightback from 0-2 down fell short of saving this game for Avangard – and the loss proved to be head coach Andrei Skabelka’s last act in charge of the Omsk team.

Skabelka, who arrived from Sibir over the summer, had led Avangard to the top of the Chernyshev Division and thus second place in the Eastern Conference. However, with 74 points from 46 games, his team had only the fifth best record in the East and today’s loss saw its lead over divisional rival Salavat Yulaev cut to two points.

Neftekhimik took a 2-0 lead in the first period, thanks to goals from Damir Sharipzyanov and Pavel Kulikov. Adding insult to injury, Kulikov’s strike was assisted by Dennis Everberg, who recently left Omsk to join today’s opponent. The second period brought a recovery, with Ansel Galimov and Dmitry Kugryshev bringing Avangard level. There was even revenge for Everberg’s assist – Chad Rau, who made the opposite journey as part of that deal, got the helper on Kugryshev’s tying goal.

Ultimately, it took overtime to separate the two teams – and when the goal came it featured another player who joined Neftekhimik from Avangard this season. Ex-Omsk defenseman Erik Gustafsson fed Dan Sexton on the blue line, the forward went to the net and his shot was padded away for Andrej Nestrasil to sweep home the winner.

Sibir knocks Ak Bars off its perch

Sibir Novosibirsk 4 Ak Bars Kazan 1 (2-0, 0-1, 2-0)

Since appointing Vladimir Yurzinov as head coach, Sibir’s form has turned around. Today’s victory against Ak Bars knocked the long-time Eastern Conference leader off the top of the table and moved the Siberians to within two points of a playoff spot.

The foundations for Sibir’s fifth win in six games were laid towards the end of the first period. Vyacheslav Osnovin opened the scoring on 17:32, and within a minute Nikolai Demidov’s power play goal had doubled that advantage.

Ak Bars responded through Danis Zaripov in the middle frame, but hopes of a comeback were snuffed out in the third. Alexander Bergstrom got his eighth goal in seven games before Jonas Enlund wrapped up the win. Bergstrom’s current productive streak stretches nine games, and totals nine goals and four assists.

Fast start puts Avtomobilist on top

Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg 4 Dynamo Moscow 3 (3-1, 1-0, 0-2)

Avtomobilist moved to the top of the Eastern Conference with victory in its final game of 2017, edging one point clear of Ak Bars.

Avto’s success against Dynamo was built on a fast start – the home side scored three in the first 10 minutes of a breathless opening frame. The first exchanges were explosive: Avtomobilist went in front in the third minute through Andrei Obidin, but Dynamo tied it up 71 seconds later thanks to Alexander Petunin. However, Petunin’s next significant contribution was less successful: his misplaced pass released Anatoly Golyshev to make it 2-1 for Avto. Alexander Torchenyuk’s wrist shot made it 3-1, and the first period had yet to reach its half-way stage.

Things calmed down in the middle session, with only Nikolai Timashov’s effort from the point adding to the scoring. But in the final frame, Dynamo threatened a fightback. Two goals in two minutes early in the session saw Igor Ignatushkin and Nikita Komarov reduce the deficit to a single score. The Blue-and-Whites continued to press in search of an equalizer, but Jakub Kovar stood between the visitor and a fourth goal. Avto held on, and enters 2018 as the team on top.

Photo: 29.12.17. KHL Championship 2017/18. Avtomobilist (Yekaterinburg) - Dynamo (Moscow)

Wellman’s late blast sinks Barys

Barys Astana 2 HC Sochi 3 (0-0, 1-1, 1-2)

The alarming slump in form at Barys shows no sign of continuing, and the Kazakh team’s playoff prospects are in serious jeopardy after yet another loss. Barys is down in 10th, five points adrift of the playoff places, but has also played three games more than eighth-placed Amur.

This defeat was even harder than most. Sochi snatched the winning goal in the last minute, snapping a 2-2 tie when Casey Wellman scored on the power play. Eric O’Dell’s shot prompted a scrummage on the ice in front of Sergei Kudryavtsev’s net and the puck finally dropped for Wellman to smash home the decisive goal.

Earlier, Barys took the lead just after the midway point through Valery Orekhov, but Sochi replied when O’Dell scored on a power play in the last minute of the second period. Pavel Padakin put the visitor in front early in the third, then Linden Vey got his second goal in successive games to tie it up midway through the final frame. Vey, the club’s leading scorer, looks to be back on form after a six-game goal drought, but it wasn’t enough to save Barys from a fifth straight loss.

Omark snatches last-gasp win

Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk 3 Salavat Yulaev Ufa 4 OT (1-1, 1-1, 1-1, 0-1)

Salavat Yulaev’s improved form has moved it to within two points of Chernyshev Division leader Avangard, but the Ufa team had to wait until the last second of overtime to secure its fourth straight win. Linus Omark got the crucial goal, settling a game in which the visitor led three times but could not easily subdue an opponent seeking a fifth win in six.

Each period followed the same pattern: Salavat Yulaev went in front, then Ugra equalized. The first lead, from Anton Burdasov, lasted three minutes before Konstantin Mayorov replied. The second, given by Ilya Zubov, was taken away inside two minutes by Anton Korolyov. Enver Lisin thought he’d won it with the 3-2 goal early in the third, but Tobias Viklund scored a late power play goal to force overtime.

Despite its defeat, Ugra collects a point for the tie in regulation and moves off the foot of the KHL table. It is now one point clear of Dinamo Riga, but the Latvians have two games in hand.

CSKA’s young guns show their worth

Lada Togliatti 1 CSKA Moscow 2 (1-0, 0-2, 0-0)

With Russia in World Junior Championship action this week, it was fitting that two stars of previous WJC campaigns made the difference for CSKA in this game.

Andrei Svetlakov, who scored twice in Russia’s defeat in the 2016 final, and Kirill Kaprizov, who played in 2016 before starring the following season, got the goals to turn around this game after Georgy Belousov put Lada in front midway through the first period.

Svetlakov tied it up in the 23rd minute, taking a pass from Kaprizov and looking to slide the puck back to his team-mate, only for forward and goalie alike to miss it as it went into the net. Soon afterwards, seconds after going on the power play, Kaprizov got a goal of his own when he applied the decisive touch to a Nikita Nesterov shot from the point.

Photo: 29.12.17. KHL Championship 2017/18. Lada (Togliatti) - CSKA (Moscow)

Four goals in three minutes as Dinamo downs SKA again

Dinamo Minsk 6 SKA St. Petersburg 3 (0-1, 4-1, 2-1)

Dinamo Minsk blasted four goals in three minutes to stun SKA for the second time in 10 days.

There was a familiar feeling about the early exchanges in Belarus, with SKA dominant in the first period and going into the intermission 1-0 up thanks to Yegor Yakovlev’s early goal. But the second period tore up that script as Dinamo exploded into action.

The goals came thick and fast. Three in 58 seconds, as Marc-Andre Gragnani tied it up, Jack Skille notched on the power play and Evgeny Kovyrshin added a third. SKA took a time out, and then got a power play, but Justin Fontain added a short-handed goal for the host. From 22:36 to 25:51, Dinamo had scored four and turned the game upside down.

SKA remained dangerous, and Sergei Shirokov pulled one back late in the second period to remind everyone that the job was not yet done. But there was more to come: Dinamo scored twice in a minute late on after Mikko Koskinen returned to the bench and SKA went for broke. Alexander Pavlovich and Quinton Howden grabbed empty net goals before Sergei Plotnikov added a consolation strike for the visitor to end a crazy game in Minsk. Dinamo picked up its second win over SKA, having taken the honors in Petersburg with a shoot-out win on Dec. 19.

Narrow win keeps Severstal in touch with playoff places

Severstal Cherepovets 3 Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod 2 (1-0, 2-2, 0-0)

Severstal closed to within a point of eighth-placed Spartak after holding off Torpedo.

Neither side created a huge number of chances in this game, with shots on target at a premium throughout, but the home team took its opportunity to grab a power play goal through Valery Vasilyev early in the first. When Evgeny Mons added a second in the 26th minute, things looked comfortable for the Steelmen, but Torpedo had other ideas.

Yegor Dugin reduced the deficit, and when Torpedo got a power play soon after the pressure was on Severstal to hold on. Instead, Pavel Chernov potted a short-handed goal and the host led 3-1. Once the teams were back at equal strength, Evgeny Mozer reduced the deficit once again, but Severstal successfully closed out the rest of the game to claim a 3-2 verdict.

Andy Potts,
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