CSKA’s 2-1 loss at Salavat Yulaev ended the Moscow team’s three-season streak as regular season champion and handed the crown to defending Gagarin Cup winner SKA. Sochi confirmed its playoff place with a win at home to Jokerit.
Following Wednesday’s loss at Neftekhimik, CSKA had no more margin for error if it was to extend its run as the KHL’s regular season champion. On arrival in Ufa, it was win or bust, with SKA poised to take the title, but Salavat Yulaev knew that victory would lift it to the top of the Chernyshev Division.
The Army Men began at a high tempo, having the better of the first period in every area except the one that matters: despite CSKA topping the shot count and having more time on the attack, Salavat Yulaev got the only goal of the opening session when Enver Lisin converted a power play chance after 11 minutes.
Lisin then picked up an assist as Salavat dominated the second period. The scorer turned provider as Ilya Zubov doubled the lead. CSKA battled hard in the third, outshooting the host 13-3, but Mikhail Naumenkov’s goal was not enough to save the game and the regular season title went to St. Petersburg. However, it may not be bad news for CSKA: in nine previous KHL campaigns, the regular season champion has never lifted the Gagarin Cup.
The Eastern Conference leader suffered a surprise loss at home to a Slovan team that is out of playoff contention but seems eager to finish its season on a high.
The Slovaks recently got a win at home to Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and added another significant scalp to their collection in Tatarstan despite falling behind to a Artyom Lukoyanov goal. Michal Sersen tied it up on the power play late in the first period, and Ak Bars allowed two in a minute as Slovan took control in the third. Another power play saw Andrej Meszaros put the visitor ahead before Tomas Hrnka made it 3-1 38 seconds later.
Neftekhimik made it two wins in three days after seeing off Vityaz and returning to fourth in the Eastern Conference.
In the second period, Rafael Bikmullin put Neftekhimik in front, and Nikita Filatov scored his first for his new club to seal the win. Filatov, who spent most of the season with Lada but amassed just seven points in 23 games, now has a goal and an assist in his last two outings for Andrei Nazarov’s team.
Sochi became the seventh team to confirm its playoff place this season after coming from behind to beat Jokerit.
The home team knew that victory would move it level with Torpedo on 84 points, out of the reach of Dynamo Moscow. But against a Jokerit team looking to shrug off a narrow loss to Ak Bars, the Leopards found it tough early on. Sochi suffered two penalties early in the game, and Matt Gilroy scored on the second of them to give Jokerit the lead. In all, the host struggled to generate much offense, and that playoff fight seemed set to continue.
The second period, though, was more even. Sochi cut out the penalties and began to spend more time in the company of visiting goalie Ryan Zapolski and got its reward when Andrei Ivanov tied the game in the 29th minute. Then, late in the third, Artyom Tomilin got the goal that won the game and took Sochi to the playoffs. It was the 26-year-old’s first ever KHL goal, and only his fourth career point in the league.
Curiously, while Sochi becomes the sixth team in the West to reach post-season, only Ak Bars is mathematically certain to feature in the Eastern Conference playoffs at this stage.