(Jokerit wins the series 4-1)
Jokerit was three minutes away from facing a return trip to Sochi to settle this series – but two goals from Eeli Tolvanen sends the Finns on to a Conference semi-final match-up against CSKA.
Prior to the game, the talk in Helsinki was about the importance of wrapping up the series tonight and avoiding another flight to the Black Sea, but the visitor was equally determined to extend the contest to a sixth game and led on Dmitry Lugin’s short-handed goal.
But, with time running out, Tolvanen tied the scores before winning it for the host late in the first period of overtime. It was an individual effort, circling all the way around the Sochi zone before stuffing the puck home on the wraparound with Konstantin Barulin unable to get his way into position. However, Barulin’s problems prompted a review of the play: Brian O’Neill was on his hands and knees on the paintwork, obstructing the goalie’s movements. The key question was whether he deliberately sought to encroach on the crease, or whether he had no choice after stumbling as he wrestled with defenseman Mikhail Mamkin. It took more than five minutes of deliberation before the officials awarded the goal and sent Jokerit to the next round.
That wait was not the only anxious spell for the home team in a game that Sochi could easily have won. Sochi went ahead in the 27th minute with Sochi trying to kill a penalty on Artyom Maltsev. Jokerit got the puck to the visitor’s net but failed to press home the advantage; Sochi launched a break away with Dmitry Lugin and Eric O’Dell streaking up the ice in a 2-on-1 situation against Matt Gilroy. Lugin shaped as if to pass to O’Dell but went ahead to shoot himself, beating Ryan Zapolski on the stick side with a wrister from the left-hand circle.
Either side of that goal, Sochi went close. A power play early in the second period saw Mamkin fire a vicious shot into the angle of post and bar; a video review confirmed that the puck did not cross the line. Then Lugin got another shooting chance at the start of the third and dinged the puck off the crossbar. Jokerit, by contrast, was on the back foot for long periods, struggling to get good looks at Barulin’s net as the visitor looked set to save the series.
All that was forgotten late in the game, though. Jokerit grabbed a dramatic tying goal with three minutes to play when Eeli Tolvanen scored his fourth of the playoffs. The teenager was lurking on the slot, waiting for his chance, and gobbled it up when Barulin allowed a big rebound from Gilroy’s point shot. That was a reward for the way the home team raised the tempo in the latter half of the final period, with Tommi Kivisto and Petteri Wirtanen both testing the goalie from distance.
In overtime, Sochi came out of the blocks quicker but quickly faded. Niclas Jensen had Barulin in trouble with a testing backhand, Pekka Jormakka almost followed his overtime winner in Sochi with a repeat here when he hit the bar, and by the time Tolvanen hit the target it felt that the goal was coming for Jokerit.
The result wraps up the first round of playoff action in the Western Conference, with Jokerit joining SKA, CSKA and Lokomotiv in the conference semi-finals. The match-ups see SKA face Loko, with the Finns heading to Moscow for their next engagement against CSKA.