Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Two games defined Saturday’s narrative in the KHL. First, Ak Bars won 3-2 at Avtomobilist early in the day, then Jokerit rallied from 0-3 to defeat Kunlun Red Star 4-3. As a result, the Chinese team can no longer overtake its Tatar rival and, as a result, Ak Bars is assured of a playoff place this season. Elsewhere, Lokomotiv snapped a four-game losing streak with an important win at Vityaz, Admiral kept its playoff hopes alive with a shoot-out success in Riga and there were wins for Severstal and Spartak.

Ak Bars reaches the playoffs, Kovar suffers injury

Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg 2 Ak Bars Kazan 3 (1-1, 1-2, 0-0)

Ak Bars is the first team to secure a place in the Eastern Conference playoffs following Saturday’s victory at Avtomobilist. The home team saw a three-game winning run come to an end, but could face a more significant problem after goalie Jakub Kovar left the game with 10 minutes to play suffering from a suspected concussion.

The visitor took the lead early in the game when Kristian Khenkel moved into the Avtomobilist and fired off a shot that deflected past Kovar off the skate of Rafael Batyrshin. And that fast start encouraged Ak Bars to keep up the pressure, with Avto needing eight minutes to generate its first shot on goal. At the other end, the home team blocked 10 shots in the first period and got a reward for that hard work late in the frame when Geoff Platt tied the scores.

However, a penalty on Platt at the start of the middle session enabled Ak Bars to regain the lead, with Emil Galimov converting the power play. Five minutes later, Artyom Galimov extended that advantage when he potted his 10th goal of the season.

Avtomobilist hit back to make it a one-goal game thanks to Nigel Dawes but the home team struggled to create opportunities to tie it up in the third. Making matters worse, Kovar came off worse in a collision with Denis Bodrov and was stretchered from the ice.

Hartikainen’s double paces Ufa win

Salavat Yulaev Ufa 5 Barys Nur-Sultan 2 (2-0, 0-1, 3-1)

Salavat Yulaev got its first win over Barys since November 2018 to boost its push for a playoff place. Saturday’s victory lifts the team above Kunlun Red Star into sixth place and maintains a five-point cushion over Admiral, winners at Dinamo Riga.

The home team had to soak up some pressure early in the game but began to ask more question of Barys after the midway point. Dmitry Kugryshev opened the scoring in the 13th minute and Teemu Hartikainen added a second before the intermission.

In the second period, Ufa looked to be in control of the game until a needless ‘too many men’ penalty handed the initiative back to Barys. The visitor has one of the most effective power play units in the KHL and duly took advantage here to halve the deficit thanks to Atte Ohtamaa.

Salavat restored its two-goal advantage early in the third when Kugryshev set up Alexander Kadeikin but Ohtamaa struck again to keep it tight. However, Hartikainen added his second of the game and Nikita Soshnikov wrapped things up with his 21st goal of the season to secure the win for the home team.

Jokerit recovers from 0-3

Jokerit Helsinki 4 Kunlun Red Star 3 (0-2, 1-1 3-0)

Jokerit produced a big fightback to deal a blow to Red Star’s playoff prospects and deny our team from Beijing a happy start to the Chinese Year of the Rat. At first, it seemed that the festivities would travel from China to Finland as the visitor jumped to a 3-0 lead, but Jokerit responded to claw back the deficit and win the game.

Red Star struck twice in the first period to take control of the game. Brandon Yip opened the scoring in the ninth minute then turned provider as Trevor Murphy converted the visitor’s first power play of the afternoon. And captain Yip was involved again right after the intermission when Victor Bartley made it 3-0.

But Jokerit had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat two days earlier and was ready for a similar act of escapology today. A home power play saw Jesse Joensuu get his stick on a wrister from Teemu Eronen to pull a goal back in the second period, and the third brought three unanswered tallies. Mika Niemi fired home his second of the season to make it a one-goal game, then Mikko Lehtonen smashed in point shot that dropped for Joensuu to grab his second of the game.

The scores were tied with five minutes left and a late power play chance for Jokerit brought the winner. Lehtonen was the scorer, unleashing a one-timer from the blue line as Veli-Matti Savinainen screened Simon Hrubec in the visitor’s net.

Severstal has too much for Minsk

Dinamo Minsk 1 Severstal Cherepovets 3 (1-0, 0-2, 0-1)

Severstal kept its outside chance of a playoff place alive with victory in Minsk, where Dinamo continues to battle to avoid finishing bottom of the Western Conference.

The home team, victorious against Spartak in the week, made a powerful start to the game, outshooting Severstal 16-3 in the first period. However, there was only one goal to show for it, a power play effort from Vladislav Yeryomenko two minutes before the break.

The visitor created more in the second period and succeeded in turning the game around. Geoff Kinrade tied it up before Vladislav Provolnev grabbed a shorthanded goal to put Severstal in front. Dinamo dominated the third period in much the same way it had the better of the first, but allowed a breakaway goal from Alexander Petunin midway through the frame as the Steelmen took the verdict.

Spartak eases past Traktor

Spartak Moscow 4 Traktor Chelyabinsk 0 (0-0, 1-0, 3-0)

Spartak, engaged in a three-way race for third place in the West alongside Jokerit and Dynamo, delivered an expected home victory against struggling Traktor. However, the Red-and-Whites needed time to put this game to bed, despite the opponent’s lowly position in the Eastern Conference.

Photo: 25.01.20. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Spartak (Moscow) - Traktor (Chelyabinsk)

The home team made a good start in a first period peppered with penalties against Traktor, yet it wasn’t until late in the second that the first goal arrived. Anatoly Nikontsev finally broke the deadlock. Yakov Rylov’s assist made it five games in a row that the defenseman was among the points.

In the third, Traktor ran out of gas and allowed three further goals. Robin Hanzl struck early in the frame, and midway through the session there were two more tallies from Patrik Hersley – again assisted by Rylov – and Alexander Khokhlachyov.

Loko shrugs off skid and climbs to sixth

Vityaz Moscow Region 2 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 5 (0-2, 1-0, 1-3)

Lokomotiv snapped a four-game losing streak and jumps to sixth in the Western Conference, overtaking Saturday’s opponent Vityaz in the process. The three-way battle between these two teams and Torpedo, currently in seventh, is significant in the playoff picture: the team that claims sixth place will avoid a daunting first-round engagement against either CSKA or SKA.

Photo: 25.01.20. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Vityaz (Moscow Region) - Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)

With that prize on offer, Loko was delighted to get a 5-on-3 situation late in the first period. Jakub Jerabek followed Quinton Howden into the box and Stephane Da Costa forced home the opening goal. Within two minutes, Vladimir Tkachyov made it 2-0 and the Railwaymen were on track.

However, the visitor’s progress would be derailed. Midway through the game, Pavel Varfolomeyev halved the deficit and a power play goal at the start of the third saw Alexei Byvaltsev tie the scores. Artur Kayumov responded quickly to restore Loko’s lead and a late double from Anton Lander sealed an important win.

Nervy Admiral edges vital shoot-out verdict

Dinamo Riga 1 Admiral Vladivostok 2 SO (0-1, 0-0, 1-0, 0-0, 0-1)

Admiral grabbed a shoot-out victory in Riga to move within three points of the top eight in the Eastern Conference. It was a nervy performance from the visitor, which knows it has little room for error in the closing stages of the season as it looks to break into the playoff places.

The Sailors took an early lead through Denis Vikharev in the fourth minute but failed to build on that advantage, despite going on to have the better of the first period. Alexander Salak repelled all further attempts on his net – the Czech would finish the game with 35 saves – and gradually Riga began to ask more questions at the other end.

The tying goal came midway through the third period on a delayed penalty. Marek Daloga got the goal after Salak raced to the bench to allow an extra attacker onto the ice and the game was tied. Dinamo’s point lifts it off the foot of the Western Conference ahead of Dinamo Minsk and – at least theoretically – keeps the team in contention for a playoff place. Defeat in regulation would have seen the Latvians become the first team mathematically unable to reach the post season.

Admiral’s hopes of extending the campaign are rather more viable, however, all the more so after Martin Bakos sealed a shoot-out success for the visitor. That takes the Vladivostok team to 52 points, with eighth-placed Metallurg on 55.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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