Andy Potts,
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Avangard began life without Andrei Skabelka with a big win, but without incoming head coach German Titov. Amur stays in a playoff place despite a shoot-out loss, Lokomotiv edges a thriller in Yekaterinburg, Dinamo Minsk surprises Metallurg and CSKA beats Jokerit in overtime.

Sibir closes gap on Amur

Amur Khabarovsk 2 Sibir Novosibirsk 3 SO (1-1, 0-0, 1-1, 0-0, 0-1)

Amur suffered a home defeat against one of its biggest rivals for a playoff place – but remained in the top eight by virtue of taking the game to overtime.

However, after twice leading in regulation thanks to goals from Tomas Zohorna, the home team may feel its position should be rather more comfortable as it chases only its second ever KHL post-season campaign. The Czech international shot Amur into the lead during a power play early in the game, only for Jonas Enlund to tie the scores five minutes later. Then came a long pause before the teams traded goals in the third period. Again, Zohorna put Amur up, but this time the response was even quicker: Rok Ticar needed just 39 seconds to tie the scores and take the game to overtime.

If the home team had more scoring chances in regulation, Sibir fired in more shots in the extras. But it took a shoot-out to decide the outcome, and Vyacheslav Osnovin was the only player to convert his attempt.

Avangard starts with a win after Skabelka’s departure

Kunlun Red Star 0 Avangard Omsk 4 (0-2, 0-1, 0-1)

Avangard’s hopes of a new era got off to a stuttering start behind the scenes – but on the ice, 2018 began in fine style.

The Omsk team brought in new head coach German Titov to replace Andrei Skabelka at the end of last year, but visa complications made it impossible for him to travel to Shanghai for the first game after the New Year break. Dmitry Ryabykin, Avangard’s defensive coach, stood behind the bench and saw his team pick up a 4-0 victory.

Two goals midway through the first period made the difference. Evgeny Medvedev opened the scoring with his 10th of the season before Danil Faizullin added a second. In the middle frame, Oleg Shilin performed well to keep a revitalized Red Star at bay before Faizullin notched another late on. Shilin finished with 32 saves as Kunlun again failed to score against Avangard; Ilya Mikheyev added a fourth in the last minute.

Ugolnikov’s first hat-trick sinks Barys

Barys Astana 2 Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk 3 (0-2, 0-1, 2-0)

Alexander Ugolnikov got his first KHL hat-trick as Ugra’s improved form piled on the pressure for Barys’ playoff prospects.

The 28-year-old only had four goals all season ahead of today’s game, and had managed just three in each of his two previous campaigns at this level, but 2018 started in style for the forward. He got on the scoresheet in the third minute, converting a power play to open the scoring. Then, just before the first intermission, he did it again. The second period brought a third goal, this time on a 4-on-3 power play: a treble for Ugolnikov and three assists for Maxim Pestushko.

Barys welcomed Nigel Dawes back to the roster for the first time since Dec. 11, and played its first game following the departure of head coach Evgeny Koreshkov. But a third-period revival, with goals from Roman Starchenko and Linden Vey (the latter assisted by Dawes), was not enough to give Galym Mambetaliyev a victory as he took interim charge of the team.

Bryukvin’s beauty stops Traktor

Traktor Chelyabinsk 2 Dynamo Moscow 3 SO (1-0, 0-0, 1-2, 0-0, 0-1)

Dynamo snapped a four-game losing streak thanks to a late rally in Chelyabinsk – and Vladimir Bryukvin scored an impressive goal to tie the game.

However, for much of the evening, it looked like the woes that beset the Blue-and-Whites last year were set to continued. Artyom Penkovsky gave Traktor the lead early on, and despite plenty of shooting, neither team was able to trouble the goalies again until the last 10 minutes.

Then it all changed. Richard Gynge made it 2-0 for Traktor and seemingly condemned his former club to defeat. Dynamo had other ideas. Andrei Kuteikin thumped in a goal from the blue line, then Bryukvin dazzled and danced his way past three opponents before squeezing a shot past Pavel Francouz from a tight angle. Suddenly, the game was tied.

Dynamo killed a late penalty, overtime failed to produce a goal, but Dynamo took the verdict in a shoot-out after Mikhail Varnakov scored twice.

Loko wins a wild one in Yekaterinburg

Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg 5 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 6 SO (1-1, 2-2, 2-2, 0-0, 0-1)

Maybe it was a New Year hangover, or maybe the party spirit was lingering, but neither defense was at its best as this game produced 10 goals. For the neutral, though, this was a fine gift from Grandfather Frost to celebrate the return of hockey in 2018. The game ebbed and flowed and Avtomobilist, leader of the Eastern Conference, was seconds away from victory before a dramatic finish.

Yegor Korshkov denied the home team its fifth straight win. When Avto iced the puck, Loko won the face-off and Korshkov fired home the tying goal with Jakub Kovar screened by a crowd of players. Brandon Kozun and Andrei Loktionov went on to score in the shoot-out, and Lokomotiv left with the win.

It could have gone either way in regulation, too. Both teams led, neither enjoyed an advantage greater than a single goal. Korshkov had two assists in addition to his goal, providing helpers for Ilya Lyubushkin and Daniil Apalkov as Loko led 1-0 and 3-2; Ilya Krikunov got the assist when Alexei Vasilevsky made it 2-1 for Avto at the start of the second and scored the 5-4 goal with three minutes left. The teams fired in more than 100 shots between them; starting goalies Jakub Kovar and Alexander Sudnitsin played the full 65 minutes despite the ever-increasing goal tally.

Photo: 03.01.18. KHL Championship 2017/18. Avtomobilist (Yekaterinburg) - Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)

Dinamo keeps shocking the big guns

Metallurg Magnitogorsk 1 Dinamo Minsk 2 (1-0, 0-0, 0-2)

The KHL’s top teams hold no fears for Dinamo – after two wins against defending champion SKA, the Belarusians went on to defeat runner-up Metallurg. Not bad for a team battling to get into the playoff picture in the West.

Admittedly, Magnitka may feel it was the victim of a ‘smash-and-grab’ raid. The home team dominated the shot count throughout and looked fairly comfortable after Nikita Pivtsakin’s 14th-minute goal broke the deadlock.

But Dinamo is capable of upsetting any opponent. This time it couldn’t match the rapid scoring that saw four goals in 195 seconds against SKA at the end of last year, but it could haul itself back into the game. Jhonas Enroth stood up big in goal, and that ultimately gave Evgeny Kovyrshin the chance to tie the scores at the start of the final frame. The winner came five minutes from time when Sergei Drozd galloped away on the counter attack. His effort was cleared from in front of goal by Oskar Osala, but the puck went straight to Evgeny Lisovets, who fired in the decisive goal.

Nichushkin gives CSKA a tight win

CSKA Moscow 2 Jokerit Helsinki 1 OT (1-0, 0-0, 0-1, 1-0)

An overtime goal from Valery Nichushkin gave CSKA a winning start to 2018. The decisive play came as the Army Men broke out from their own zone. Kirill Petrov took play into Traktor territory and slipped a sideways pass for Nichushkin to roof the puck beyond Karri Ramo.

The home team deserved the verdict after edging a tight game. Jokerit failed to capitalize on an early power play and was punished when CSKA returned to full strength and Sergei Shumakov shot home a powerful effort to open the scoring. The middle frame saw the Finns kill a 3-on-5 situation and rattle the crossbar at the other end.

In the third period, the Finnish PP finally paid off: Peter Regin tied the scores in the 45th minute. But CSKA absorbed that blow and claimed victory in the extras.

Photo: 03.01.18. KHL Championship 2017/18. CSKA (Moscow) - Jokerit (Helsinki)

Andy Potts,
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Metallurg (Magnitogorsk) Metallurg (Magnitogorsk)
Sibir (Novosibirsk Region) Sibir (Novosibirsk Region)
Traktor (Chelyabinsk) Traktor (Chelyabinsk)
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