(CSKA leads the series 1-0)
Spartak claimed its playoff place thanks to victory in a Moscow derby – but the difference between playing Dynamo and playing CSKA was quickly made all too clear to Vadim Yepanchintsev’s team.
This cross-city clash rarely seemed poised to produce an upset, even before Maxim Shalunov gave the Army Men an 11th-minute lead. True, Ilya Sorokin had to make a smart early save to deny the evergreen Dmitry Kalinin, but CSKA was always the more dangerous team in the opening exchanges. Shalunov’s opener, on the power play, was a sweeping move. Sorokin fielded the puck behind his net, Nikita Nesterov moved play into the neutral zone and released Shalunov who rushed straight through to finish the job himself with a lovely play to beat Nikita Bespalov.
CSKA topped the shot count 13-4 at the first intermission, but it was the middle frame that saw the home team turn its domination into goals. Mikhail Grigorenko, fresh from his Olympic exertions, got both of them to put the Army Men in command. His first came gift-wrapped after Lukas Radil coughed up possession in his own zone to present Grigorenko with the puck in front of Bespalov’s net. The second was a joint effort with Valery Nichushkin. The former Traktor man – whose own career ignited during his rookie playoff campaign – launched an attack with a pass to Grigorenko. The forward feinted a return pass, and in doing so he opened up a shooting lane to beat Bespalov once again.
Early in the third, CSKA made it 4-0 – and this was a memorable moment for rookie forward Nikita Popugayev. The 19-year-old was playing in his first playoff game, having made just 12 KHL appearances to date, and collected his first ever goal for CSKA after stuffing home the rebound from Mikhail Pashnin’s point shot. Spartak opted to rest Bespalov and give Alexander Trushkov the rest of the game, but not even a spell of 5-on-3 hockey could turn the tide in the visitor’s favor.
There was more misery late on for Spartak. A power play goal from Mikhail Naumenko made it 5-0, and Shalunov joined Grigorenko on two goals in the last minute of the game. CSKA, one of the favorites to go all the way this season, began its campaign in emphatic style; Spartak has work to do to remain competitive in its first playoff series since 2011.