CSKA highlighted its title credentials with a convincing victory at Ak Bars in a Gagarin Cup final rematch. The Army Men made it eight wins in a row with a 5-0 success against the defending champion. Slovan picked up a handy success at Neftekhimik to reignite its playoff push, while Dinamo Riga let a two-goal lead slip at Torpedo before winning in overtime to complete a day of road wins.
The last time these teams met, Ak Bars powered to a 4-1 series victory to lift the Gagarin Cup for the third time. Today, though, it was CSKA that had the appearance of a champion. Powerful offense from start to finish set the Muscovites on the way to a convincing victory; the traditional Ak Bars game of building from defense was left in tatters.
The first period set the tone. CSKA did the bulk of the attacking and arguably deserved more than Mikhail Grigorenko’s eighth-minute goal for its efforts. Ak Bars spent less than 90 seconds in CSKA territory and the extent of the pressure on Emil Garipov’s net was made clear by the stats for hits and blocked shots.
Chasing the game, Ak Bars offered a greater threat in the middle frame. But as the home team looked to go forward, CSKA punished it at the other end. Anton Slepyshev added a power play goal in the 25th minute, then Ilya Sorokin snuffed out a golden opportunity for the host when he saved Alexander Burmistrov’s penalty shot. Mat Robinson, who had assists on the first two goals, was penalized for handling the puck in a scrum in front of the net but Sorokin saved his team-mate’s blushes. Grigorenko added his second of the night in fine style before Ivan Telegin potted a short-handed goal. For Ak Bars, it was a night when nothing was going right.
That feeling was underlined in the third period. Ak Bars had the bulk of the attacking play, but could not find a way past Sorokin as the CSKA goalie secured his third successive shut-out. At the other end, meanwhile, Konstantin Okulov added a fifth late on. CSKA has eight wins in a row, the Army Men have enjoyed shut-outs in four of them.
Ziga Jeglic finished last season at Neftekhimik – ironically, his last game was a 5-1 victory over Slovan just prior to the Olympics. In PyeongChang the Slovenian forward was caught out with a doping infraction after an undeclared medication was detected in his sample. Jeglic served a six-month suspension from hockey, returning to join Slovan just before the international break. The story came full circle on Thursday when Jeglic, now free to play once again, potted his first goal since completing his ban – at Neftekhimik, the club he left last season.
Jeglic struck early in the second period to open the scoring in this game and set Slovan on the way to a first victory in four games. Michal Repik doubled the lead just after the halfway stage before the teams traded goals late in the middle frame as Mikael Ruohamaa and Jeff Taffe scored in the final two minutes of the session.
A late power play goal from Adam Polasek gave Neftekhimik hope of snatching something from the game, but Slovan held on to take a 3-2 verdict and move to within one win of eighth-placed Vityaz. Nefetkhimik failed to get ahead of Kunlun Red Star and return to the playoff places in the East.
Dinamo Riga snatched an overtime victory at Torpedo to open up a four-point cushion over ninth-placed Dynamo Moscow in the Western Conference playoff race. Uvis Balinskis got the decisive marker, snapping a 2-2 tie. Torpedo climbs to sixth in the East, one point ahead of Salavat Yulaev.
This game exploded into life at the midway stage. Dinamo was leading 1-0 thanks to a first period goal from Artyom Alyayev (assisted, as so often this season, by Linus Videll) when three goals in two minutes left the teams locked at 2-2. Matias Myttynen doubled Dinamo’s lead on 30:47; a minute later Torpedo pulled one back through Mathew Bodie. The visiting bench queried the call, appealing for goalie interference, but the video review ruled that the goal should stand. Dinamo lost its time-out, and maybe some composure. Just 53 seconds later Andy Miele tied the scores.
The third session saw Torpedo up its game on offense but fail to find a way past Kristers Gudlevskis in the visitor’s net. And Dinamo got its reward when 22-year-old Balinskis picked the perfect moment for his first goal of the season.