(SKA leads the series 3-1)
SKA stands on the brink of reaching the Western Conference Final after a convincing victory at Lokomotiv gave the defending champion a 3-1 series lead ahead of Thursday’s meeting in St. Petersburg.
But an impressive display in the first two periods was marred by a string of fights in the third as tempers spilled over in the closing stages of the game.
Ilya Kovalchuk was once again at the heart of much of the action: he potted the game-winning goal early in the second period, but also dropping the gloves with Denis Mosalyov deep in the third period, shortly after Vyacheslav Voynov and Nikolai Kovalenko came to blows after a fiery hit behind the SKA net. Later there was more brawling as Loko’s Alexander Yelesin and Daniil Apalkov tangled with Yegor Rykov and Andrei Zubarev in the final minute of the game.
It was the second time in this series that the conduct of the players has attracted as much attention as their hockey skills. Before the action on Tuesday, Sergei Plotnikov learned that he would serve a two-game ban after his ejection from Monday’s encounter. And, frustratingly, it detracted from another good SKA performance as Oleg Znarok’s team dealt well with a high pressure situation to recover from going behind early on to dominate the game.
Lokomotiv, victorious 24 hours earlier, believed it had a way back into the series. When Yegor Korshkov opened the scoring in the eighth minute, that belief gained a more solid foundation. Nikita Cherepanov’s pass from the point found Korshkov all alone on the doorstep; his flick took it inside Mikko Koskinen’s post to open the scoring. The SKA had a goal ruled out when Jarno Koskiranta deflected Evgeny Ketov’s point shot into the net with his stick raised above the height of the crossbar.
That incident came in the 16th minute; in the 19th SKA was level. Andrei Zubarev fired in a shot from the blue line, Alexander Barabanov got the decisive touch and this time there was no question of a high stick.
Kovalchuk, SKA’s two-goal hero on Monday, then produced the game-winner here. A poor clearance from Loko handed the puck to SKA in centre ice, Vladislav Gavrikov sent Barabanov into the attacking zone and his pass sent Kovi clean through with Alexander Sudnitsin – a duel that only ever looked likely to have one winner.
Once ahead, SKA saw Viktor Tikhonov take the initiative. He began and ended a breakaway just after the midway mark, firing a wrist shot high inside Sudnitsin’s near post after a Loko attack broke down. Then, after Sudnitsin denied him with a glove save on another breakout, Tikhonov squeezed home another shot from a tight angle to make it 4-1 in the 35th minute.
The game was decided, but there was still time for some needle in the final stages. Tikhonov got involved in a skirmish with Grigory Denisenko before that late flurry of fists took some of the gloss off the evening.