SKA overcame the jitters that saw it lose the first two games of its series against Spartak. Four power play goals helped Ilya Vorobyov’s team to a 5-2 win in Moscow and put it right back in the series. CSKA, meanwhile, won 3-1 at Vityaz and is one game away from sweeping the Moscow Region team.
(CSKA leads the series 3-0)
CSKA’s progress in this series remains serene after a third victory over Vityaz puts Igor Nikitin’s team on the verge of the Conference semi-final. The Army Men reeled off a 13th successive victory, including the conclusion of the regular season, after two goals in the third period lifted them past another hard-working Vityaz display.
The home team named Alexander Samonov as starting goalie and he was immediately in the thick of things. A Klas Dahlback shot from long range got caught up in his pads and sparked a ruckus on the crease that saw Igor Golovkov and Pavel Karnaukhov sent to cool their heels for a couple of minutes. He remained the busier of the goalies, and his best work came late in the frame when he halted Anton Slepyshev’s rush before dealing with follow-up efforts from Dahlback and Ivan Telegin to keep the game goalless at the first intermission.
It took until the 28th minute for CSKA to solve the home goalie – but some neat interplay finally unpicked the Vityaz defense. Konstantin Okulov and Maxim Shalunov exchanged passes as they worked their way up the ice, leaving the opposition floundering their wake. Shalunov wrapped up the move with the opening goal and the Army Men were on the march again.
Vityaz mustered a response, upping the tempo in front of Ilya Sorokin’s net and tying the game on the power play just before the intermission. Alexander Yevseyenkov was the sole defenseman on the host’s special team but he was the man who fired a rising shot past Sorokin from the top of the left-hand circle to offer his team a lifeline in both the game and the series.
To build on that, the home team needed a strong start to the third period. Instead, while pressing in the CSKA zone, Vityaz allowed a clinical counter-attack. Maxim Mamin swiftly slid the puck to Mat Robinson in center ice and the defenseman showed great composure in evading the desparate lunge of Mikhail Yepishin and beating Samonov. When Slepyshev added a power play tally with 10 minutes to play, there was no way back for Vityaz.
The teams meet again on Monday and Vityaz will have to win a playoff game for the first time in its KHL history if it is to remain in this year’s competition.
Igor Nikitin, head coach, CSKA
It was a tough game, lots of battles, the result was never clear. That goal at the start of the third period, of course, made a huge difference for us.
Valery Belov, head coach, Vityaz
It was our best game in the series. I’m happy with the guys, they way they prepared and the way they played. We kept the errors to a minimum, but again we were punished for them.
(Spartak leads the series 2-1)
After two defeats at home to Spartak, SKA needed to reassert itself. A 5-2 victory in Moscow puts Ilya Vorobyov’s team right back into the series, helped by four power play goals in a game littered with penalties. However, a good day for the Army Men was marred by Igor Shestyorkin’s dismissal for tripping late in the second period. The goalie was sent to the locker room for tripping Kaspars Daugavins and is likely to face a suspension.
Penalties proved decisive in the rest of the game. Twice, Spartak allowed SKA a 5-on-3 advantage and twice Nikita Gusev took advantage to open a 2-0 lead with goals either side of the first intermission. In a game where SKA needed its big players to rise to the occasion, the Olympic champion started with a one-timer from a tight angle off a Pavel Datsyuk feed. Next, he was on hand to pick up the pieces after Sergei Plotnikov battled for the rebound off a Patrik Hersley thunderbolt. A coach’s challenge failed to overturn the goal and SKA had a two-goal lead.
There was more penalty pain on the way for the home team a few seconds later. Spartak was still a man down when Vasily Tokranov’s point shot was parried by Julius Hudacek and dropped for Vladislav Gavrikov to score from close range. Two days ago SKA had let a two-goal lead evaporate; it was hard to believe that a 3-0 advantage could disappear in this game. True, Artyom Fyodorov pulled a goal back for Spartak almost immediately, but Alexander Barabanov soon scored a fourth power play goal of the game for SKA to restore that three-goal cushion.
Shestyorkin’s departure threatened to disrupt the visitor’s progress as the PIMs began to pile up for both teams, but there was no further scoring until very late in the game. Anton Zlobin struck with two minutes left to raise faint hopes of yet another last-gasp recovery for Spartak. However, Jarno Koskiranta stamped all over that dream when he shot into an empty net to make the final score 5-2.
Now Spartak faces a serious test of character in Monday’s game: victory would keep the Red-and-Whites in control of the series, while defeat would surely see the momentum swing firmly back behind SKA before the action returns to St. Petersburg.
Igor Ulanov, coach, Spartak
This team has nothing to be ashamed of, the guys did everything we asked of them today. We spent a lot of time shorthanded but still kept plugging away. We played as a team and the series goes on. The aggregate score is 7-7, there’s everything still to play for.
Right now we don’t know what’s happening with Daugavins. He went to the clinic and we’re waiting for answers. Kaspars is a key player for us, he plays an important role and he’s a big miss. But we played without him in the first game and won, we have players in reserve.
Ilya Vorobyov, head coach, SKA
The special teams decided this game. We’ll move on ot the next one. I’m not worried that we only scored on the power play, we won the game. The incident with Daugavins was a normal moment in a game. It’s just unfortunate that he fell awkwardly.