(Series tied at 2-2)
For much of this season, games between these two teams have been about SKA’s struggles to solve Ilya Sorokin in the CSKA net. For two minutes in the third period on Wednesday, the Petersburg team at last found the answers it has been looking for.
First came Nikita Gusev on the power play. SKA’s leading scorer in these playoffs got his second of the series with a powerful shot from the top of the circle after taking time to weigh up his options in front of a depleted CSKA rearguard. That made it 2-1, SKA in front for the first time in the game. Within a minute the lead was doubled. Viktor Tikhonov and Sergei Plotnikov took the fight to CSKA behind the net and when the latter looked to shoot the puck to the slot he got a lucky bounce off Mikhail Pashnin and saw it squeeze between Sorokin’s pad and the near post.
That turned the game around and CSKA was unable to recover, despite dramatically upping the intensity of its offense. In the third period, the visitor fired in 11 of the 20 shots it produced through the game. Igor Nikitin even gambled on withdrawing Sorokin from the net with more than four minutes to play, initially forcing a two-man advantage on the power play, then continuing with an empty net until the bitter end, but there was no change to the final scoreline. SKA secured the win and tied the series at 2-2 before the teams return to Moscow for game five on Friday.
All that came after CSKA had enjoyed a strong start. The visitor might have gone in 2-0 up at the first intermission. The Muscovites took the lead in the 14th minute of a typically cagey opening frame when Sergei Kalinin went round the back and set up Mikhail Naumenkov for a one-timer from the left-hand face-off spot. Naumenkov’s effort came through traffic; unsighted, Igor Shestyorkin could not respond in time.
A few minutes later, CSKA had the puck in the net again. This time, though, a sharp-eyed review of the video found a flaw in the build up. The play began with Klas Dahlback shooting the puck down the ice, from where a deflection off Vladislav Gavrikov saw it loop up to the glass around the SKA bench before dropping back into play. However, the replay showed that the disk had returned via the curved ‘turnbuckle’ that forms the start of the protective panels around the inside of the bench and, according to rule 67, paragraph 5, was out of play. The goal was therefore disallowed.
Reprieved and relieved, SKA took advantage in the second period. Where the opening frame was tight, this time the host boosted its offense and dominated the play. The reward came midway through the session when Nikolai Prokhorkin, game-winning hero in Monday’s overtime triumph, produced another big goal against his former club. The forward, unusually, was lurking at the point when he stepped up to meet Gusev’s feed with an emphatic one-timer that gave Sorokin no chance.
That kick-started a home revival that brought victory on the night and ensured that the series will effectively restart in two days time as a simple ‘best-of-three’ shoot-out for a place in the grand final.
Igor Nikitin, head coach, CSKA
What can I say? We’ll prepare for the next game.
Why did you replace Sorokin? [Lars Johansson replaced CSKA’s starting goalie for a few minutes in the third period before Sorokin returned]
We were down 1-3, and we wanted to give Lars a chance to experience some playoff action. We also wanted to shake up the team. Everything’s fine.
How did you feel about the decisions that went against you tonight?
It’s hard to kill so many penalties. The guys got tired, the opposition played well against us. We haven’t managed to learn the rules, it feels like they are very different for different teams. The guys did well but it’s hard to play aggressive hockey with four skaters so we had to be more cautious.
Are you worried that your first line failed to score and even allowed a goal?
Everything is under control. It’s a good challenge for our first line. Why not?
Ilya Vorobyov, head coach, SKA
The penalties in the first period let us down. Our first shifts were fine but then we got into a run of power play and penalty kill and lost our rhythm. We lost our way, but in the second and third periods we played some great hockey.
Will we see Datsyuk in this series?
Are we going to have this question in every press conference? When he’s ready, then you’ll see him.
Do you think the players’ wives had an influence on the game?
If everything is good at home, our players do better.
What’s changed since the games in Moscow?
You think I can tell you everything? We’ve made a few changes and we scored three goals so that means they worked well. We’re looking for the answers, the guys are getting more pucks to the net.