(SKA leads the series 2-1)
A hotly-disputed video verdict and two goals from Ilya Kovalchuk provided the key incidents of a fiery Western Conference semi-final match-up – but amid all the emotion and excitement, SKA secured a valuable victory to move back in front in the series.
Kovi’s double made the difference on the scoreboard, but the game also saw both teams have goals ruled out after video reviews. There was also a match penalty for SKA’s Sergei Plotnikov, while Kovalchuk inflamed the home crowd with his antics midway through the first period as he picked up a double minor penalty. Lokomotiv also got in on the act, with Max Talbot’s juddering hit on Andrei Zubarev also earning a double minor in the opening frame.
It didn’t take long for the first big incident of the game to arrive. Lokomotiv believed it had taken a first-period lead in the eighth minute when Jakub Nakladal fired a shot past Mikko Koskinen while Viktor Tikhonov sat out a penalty. However, earlier in the play, the puck left the playing field, bouncing in and out of the bench after Petri Kontiola and Vladislav Gavrikov tussled for possession. After a lengthy video review, the officials ruled out the goal, prompting anger and derision among the home crowd. However, the KHL’s disciplinary committee quickly issued a statement supporting the officials’ verdict, complete with a video image clarifying the position of the puck as it bounced back into play from the SKA bench.
After that controversy, Kovalchuk took centre stage – although not always for the right reasons. The SKA forward made some angry gestures towards Nakladal as he skated towards the sin bin to serve a 2+2 penalty, and further riled the home crowd when he seemed to mock Andrei Loktionov for avoiding a fight moments earlier. That was only part of a series of penalties in a niggly opening frame which saw both teams collect 10 PIMs apiece.
After the first intermission, Kovalchuk disappeared from view, not taking his place on the SKA bench until midway through the second period. Whatever happened in that gap, however, clearly had the right effect on Petersburg’s star forward. Back on the ice, Kovalchuk opened the scoring in the 36th minute, getting the vital touch on Yegor Rykov’s point shot to put the puck beyond Alexander Sudnitsin.
An evening that was never short of controversy got another talking point early in the third period when Sergei Plotnikov was ejected from the game. The SKA forward, once a Lokomotiv favorite, leapt into a hit on Vladislav Kartayev, catching the Loko youngster high and late after he had already lost the puck to Artyom Zub. However, the Railwaymen were unable to take advantage of their five-minute power play.
Next, it was SKA’s turn to have a goal disallowed in the 57th minute. Ilya Kablukov put the puck in the net, but the officials ruled that there Evgeny Ketov had encroached on the crease and ruled out the play. For Lokomotiv it was a lifeline, but moments later that chance was snapped from the Railwaymen’s grasp.
Perhaps inevitably, given all that came before, the final say fell to Kovalchuk. He moved onto Patrick Thoresen’s pass and from mid-range put a shot past Sudnitsin to settle the outcome of a game full of incident.