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SKA St. Petersburg 3 CSKA Moscow 2 (1-0, 1-2, 1-0)

(Series tied at 3-3)

It was a game that had everything: goals scored, a goal disallowed, a fight and a 10-minute video review before awarding the winner. And, at the end of it all, SKA’s success takes the Western Conference Final to game seven. On Tuesday these teams meet again in Moscow, for the last time. Someone, finally, has to take a place in the Gagarin Cup final.

Photo: 07.04.19. KHL Championship 2018-2019. Playoffs. SKA (St.Petersburg) - CSKA (Moscow)

First came the fight. Midway through the first period, Sergei Plotnikov and Ivan Telegin came to blows on SKA slot in the aftermath of a raid by Sergei Kalinin; the SKA forward had the better of the battle, but both players received the same five-minute tariff. Once those penalties had been served, it was SKA who went in front. Maxim Karpov sent the puck into the CSKA zone where Nail Yakupov got in front of Konstantin Okulov and advanced to shoot past Ilya Sorokin. That was Yakupov’s first scoring contribution of this series – and it could hardly have come at a more important moment.

However, the next big contribution for SKA came from the officials. CSKA believed it had tied the game with almost its first attack after Yakupov’s goal. Alexei Marchenko fired the puck across the face of Igor Shestyorkin’s net and Linden Vey arrived the back door to convert the chance. However, the video showed that the visiting forward had steered the puck home with his leg and thus the goal was whistled off. SKA held its lead to the intermission.

Two minutes into the second period, SKA doubled that advantage and Yakupov was on the scoresheet once again. Patrik Hersley’s center point shot was redirected by Alexei Byvaltsev and Sorokin’s save dropped straight onto Yakupov’s stick for an unmissable opportunity. Thus, after a long dry spell, Yakupov blossomed into scoring form once again, doubling his goal tally for the current playoffs in the space of barely six minutes of game time.

CSKA’s hopes of wrapping up this series in six and enjoying the luxury of a week’s rest before facing Avangard or Salavat Yulaev in the final looked to be fading fast but 2-0 is a notoriously difficult lead to hold. And, just as Yakupov found two goals to put SKA on top, Mat Robinson delivered a double for CSKA to tie the game by the end of the middle frame. His first, in the 34th minute, had an element of fortune: the defenseman looked to shoot the puck to the net and saw a deflection off Shestyorkin’s skate take it into the net. Next, he scored on the power play as CSKA needed just nine seconds to punish the host for a too many men call. Maxim Shalunov’s shot was padded away but Robinson had already advanced to the far post and collected the rebound before returning it with interest to the roof of the net.

SKA power play wasn’t so shabby either when it got the chance. Six minutes into the third period Nikita Gusev took advantage of Andrei Svetlakov’s spell in the box to shot home from the top of the circle. His effort took a deflection off CSKA’s Klas Dahlback before squeezing past Sorokin’s stick and inside the near post. Pavel Datsyuk, back in the team for the first time in this series, helped to screen Sorokin as the shot came in and the home crowd celebrated a game-breaking moment. However, that wasn’t the end of the story. The officials had concerns about a hand pass in the build-up to Gusev’s shot and spent close to 10 minutes analyzing the video footage before confirming that the goal was good.

In front once again, and aware that it had less than 15 minutes to hold on and tie the series at 3-3, SKA worked to close down the game. In the entire third period the home team managed just two shots at Sorokin, but limited to CSKA to seven attempts at the other end. And thus the home team clinched a tight victory and kept the series alive to the final encounter in Moscow on Tuesday.

Igor Nikitin, head coach, CSKA

It was a tough game. Both teams played some great hockey but we came up just short. Now it’s all going down to game seven and I think that’s a fair reflection of the series.

How did this game differ from the previous one?

Today we allowed three goals, last time we scored three. I’m not prepared to break down today’s game right now.

Ilya Vorobyov, head coach, SKA

We started well and scored twice. Then we allowed a strange goal through traffic and were caught out when we were short handed. The guys did well to find a way to win it from there. Now we have to prepare for the big one. Game seven is something special in any series. The key is keeping your nerve and cutting out any mistakes.

Will Nikolai Prokhorkin play in Moscow?

We’ll have to see what condition he’s in. He had a genuine reason to miss today’s game.

How did you rate the contribution of Byvaltsev’s line?

We’re a team, not one line. Yakupov scored his goals and played well. But it’s about the team. Everyone stepped up, everyone put himself on the line in the PK, I don’t want to single anybody out.

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CSKA (Moscow) CSKA (Moscow)
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