March 3 is generally regarded as the 'birthday' of hockey, in memory of the game played in Montreal in 1875 that is accepted as first ever recognizable game of modern hockey. So it's an auspicious date for the 10th season of KHL playoffs to get underway - and the opening encounters provided plenty of action!
(HC Sochi leads the series 1-0)
The first playoff encounter between Jokerit and Sochi needed overtime to separate the two teams after a 2-2 tie in regulation. Given that these teams had served up two tight, one-goal games in the regular season, it was little surprise to see this opening post-season battle go the distance; like the regular season match-ups, Sochi came out on top thanks to a goal from Jonathon Blum in second overtime.
Blum, part of the USA roster at the Olympics, is a relatively recent arrival in Sochi after beginning the season at Admiral. But the San Diego native picked the perfect moment to score his first goal for his new club. It wasn’t, perhaps, his finest finish – crashing the net as Artyom Tomilin looked to exploit a three-on-two rush, Blum got the final contact as the puck dribbled past Ryan Zapolski – but it was enough to secure a winning start in this opening round playoff series.
Sochi began the game with all the confidence you might expect from a team that had twice defeated Jokerit already this season. Inside four minutes, the visitor had the lead as Eric O’Dell opened the scoring with a goal that combined brilliance and blunders. Pavel Padakin supplied the brilliance, battling behind the net then supplying a no-look pass for O’Dell out in front. The Canadian produced a nice dangle to get into a shooting position, but stumbled at the crucial moment, fanning on his shot but still seeing it sneak under Zapolski. The Jokerit goalie would surely want that one back after fluffing a seemingly routine pad save.
The home team’s problems got worse soon after when Steve Moses was ejected for the game for slashing at Dmitry Lugin. However, a solid PK prevented Sochi from extending its lead and gave some spirit to the Jokerit ranks. Once the penalty was served, the home team turned the game around with two power play goals of its own. First, Peter Regin fed the puck wide for Olli Palola, whose shot from a tight angle squeezed through Konstantin Barulin. Then Matt Gilroy fired the puck to the net and Jesse Joensuu got the vital touch to put the Finns in front.
Sochi tied the game midway through the second period when Sean Collins was in the right place to put away Sergei Shmelyov’s diagonal feed and there was no further scoring until overtime. Niklas Jensen came close to winning it for the host with a shot against the post, Yegor Morozov might have snatched it for Sochi when his shot flashed just over the piping.
Into the extras, and Jokerit dominated the first period. The Finns outshot Sochi 16-4, helped by three power plays. However, aside from one great opportunity for Jensen, brilliantly saved by Konstantin Barulin, there were few clear-cut chances to win the game until Sochi snatched it early in the second period of overtime.