(CSKA leads the series 3-1)
CSKA is one step away from reaching the Western Conference Final after edging a hard-fought 2-1 verdict in Helsinki to go 3-1 up in the series.
The Army Men suffered an overtime loss in Monday’s match-up, but responded in determined style. Now CSKA can wrap up the series on Thursday back in Moscow – where, so far, Ilya Sorokin has yet to allow a goal in this year’s playoffs.
Jokerit, meanwhile, continues to grapple with the challenge of beating CSKA’s impressive young goaltender. Once again, the key challenge for the Muscovites’ opponents is getting pucks to the net and firing in meaningful shots: a striking feature of Sorokin’s many post-season shut-outs has been how few saves he has needed to make for many of them. The first period of tonight’s game encapsulated the problem. The Finns, lifted by yesterday’s victory, worked hard to seize the early initiative. However, despite having much the better of the play, it managed just six shots at Sorokin. Only one of those, a wrister from Eeli Tolvanen in the 13th minute, offered a serious test to the visiting goalie, although Peter Regin felt he made have won a penalty shot when tripped by Nikita Nesterov early on.
The middle frame changed all that. The pace of the game picked up, and CSKA quickly moved ahead. Mikhail Naumenkov’s point shot was turned in by Alexander Popov in the 22nd minute as Karri Ramo was left unsighted. But that lead was short lived: Steve Moses fired in a shot from the blue line, Jesse Joensuu put up a screen and Jokerit was level.
Gradually, though, CSKA began to tighten the screws. Geoff Platt forced a big save from Ramo, Sergei Andronov tested the Finn with a huge slap shot and Jokerit was struggling to stay in the game. A too many men penalty slowed the visitor’s march, and the host kept the scores level until the intermission.
The final frame began at a frantic pace, with the play – and the errors – flashing from one end of the ice to the other. There were crunching moments, such as Joensuu’s hit that flattened Alexei Marchenko against the boards or the facial injury that forced Ivan Telegin to the locker room. In keeping with the fast and furious action, the winning goal came from an unwelcome deflection: Andronov slung the puck into the danger zone in search of Valery Nichushkin, but it was Sami Lepisto’s skate that sent it past Ramo to put CSKA in front once again. Once again, the Army Men effectively stifled the home offense in the closing stages: despite searching for a tying goal, Jokerit was limited to just six shots on goal in the final period. When Lepisto departed on a minor penalty late in the game, home hopes went with him: CSKA will look to close it out in Moscow.