(CSKA leads the series 3-2)
CSKA and Jokerit played out the longest ever game in KHL history, going into an unprecedented fifth period of overtime before Jokerit finally grabbed a precious win to keep this series alive. Early in the fourth period of extras, this encounter went beyond the 2014 match-up between Lev Prague and Donbass Donetsk, a game won by the Ukrainian team after 126:14 of action.
The game was decided on 142:04 by Mika Niemi. At that point, the time was 1:34am in Moscow and more than six hours had elapsed since the first puck was dropped at 7:30 the previous evening. Although Niemi’s goal brought an end to this game, it extended the series: Jokerit survived its first visit to the last-chance saloon, and takes the action back to Helsinki on Saturday with a chance to tie this Western Conference Semi-Final.
For CSKA, the frustration was huge. Over the course of this epic game, the Army Men fired in 82 shots at Karri Ramo. But the Finnish goalie produced a huge game, beaten only by a wonder-goal from Kirill Kaprizov and later, illegally, after losing his helmet in an overtime collision with Geoff Platt. Ramo’s 81 saves set another KHL record.
Jokerit came into the game knowing that only victory would keep its season alive. Moreover, it knew that nobody had scored on CSKA in Moscow so far in this season’s playoffs. The first matter was to snap that shut-out sequence, and the visitor managed it inside four minutes. First, Ivan Telegin took an interference penalty, handing Jokerit a power play chance. Then, after Niklas Jensen’s shot flashed wide and thudded back off the boards, Brian O’Neill was on the spot to slot home the rebound and give his team a vital lead.
However, a moment of magic from Kaprizov tied the game up midway through the opening session. There wasn’t much on when he went behind the net, looking to create something on the wraparound. There was even less on when he got tangled up with Jesper Jensen – back in the Jokerit team after suspension – and stumbled into O’Neill. Yet, while sprawled on the ice, Kaprizov had the presence of mind to get a backhand shot off and score over Ramo’s shoulder to make it 1-1. That was the youngster’s first goal in 18 games.
In the second period Jokerit upped the pace, looking to establish a lead that could enable it to take this series back to Helsinki on Saturday. In the 29th minute, the visitor believed it had got in front when Lepisto fed Eeli Tolvanen and the youngster advanced to the right-hand face-off spot before unleashing his wrister and beating Ilya Sorokin. However, earlier in the play, a Jokerit man had strayed offside; an appeal from the CSKA bench saw the goal ruled out and the score remained tied until the second intermission.
The home team had the better of the third period but Jokerit defended bravely. Nine shots blocked by the visitor helped to frustrate CSKA, and one nice piece of skill from Steve Moses almost created an opening to put the Finns back in front. At the other end, Ramo stood firm under fire and the game moved on to overtime.
The extras were rather more evenly-matched, with both sides playing cautiously and probing for that decisive moment. Jokerit went close when Lepisto’s shot was turned onto the post before Tolvanen’s effort was charged down as Sorokin lost his stick. At the other end, CKSA’s best opportunity came on a power play late in the first period of overtime. Kaprizov was desperately close to forcing home the winner, but seconds later Sorokin had to be at his best again to snuff out Niemi’s solo rush and keep the action going ever deeper into the extras.
And shortly after the game moved into record-breaking territory, Roman Lyubimov thought he had won it – and the series – for CSKA when he stuffed the puck home from close range after a Platt rush left Ramo sprawling across the crease without his helmet. Jokerit immediately appealed, and the video confirmed a foul on the Finnish goalie. As the clock ticked towards 1am in Moscow, the game continued until Niemi had the final say.