Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Sunday’s hosts celebrated the joy of six with big victories in the opening day of Western Conference playoff action. Kirill Marchenko scored twice and Andrei Kuzmenko hit a hat-trick as SKA defeated Vityaz 6-1, while Jokerit went one better to thrash Lokomotiv 6-0.

Marchenko makes his mark again

SKA St. Petersburg 6 Vityaz Moscow Region 1 (1-1, 4-0, 1-0)

SKA leads the series 1-0

Past KHL playoffs have seen youngsters announce themselves in some style – think Valery Nichushkin with Traktor back in 2013. This time, it looks like Kirill Marchenko might be eying that role. The 19-year-old has been a revelation for SKA this season and he took to post-season hockey like a natural, potting two goals in his first ever KHL playoff appearance.

Photo: 01.03.20. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Playoffs. SKA (St.Petersburg) - Vityaz (Moscow Region)

The teenager’s efforts in the second period were instrumental in taking this game away from a Vityaz team that battled hard in the first stanza before finding itself overwhelmed. Yet he was eclipsed by team-mate Andrei Kuzmenko, who helped himself to a hat-trick as the Army Men made a powerful start to post season.

SKA did not get everything its own way, however. While the early stages of the game went exactly to Alexei Kudashov’s script, Vityaz battled back in the first period. The visitor cancelled out Kuzmenko’s opener when Pavel Chernov got on the end of a swift counter to tie the game. And, by the intermission, the game was fairly even with Vityaz deploying a hard-hitting style – 20 checks in the first period – to disrupt SKA’s gameplan.

However, a penalty on Svyatoslav Grebenshchikov just before the hooter saw the host start the second stanza on the power play. And that proved crucial as Alexander Barabanov got the puck behind the net and set up Joonas Kemppainen to make it 2-1. Then came the youngsters. Ivan Morozov won his battle behind the net and set up Marchenko, who beat Ilya Ezhov at the second attempt to make it 3-1 in the 27th minute. Then a power play saw Morozov start another play before Vasily Podkolzin slipped the puck out to the left for Marchenko to squeeze it home from a tight angle.

Any remaining hopes for Vityaz were quashed within a minute when another penalty and another power play saw Kuzmenko get his second. And the former CSKA man completed his treble midway through the third when he followed up an Anton Burdasov shot and tucked away the rebound to give the scoreline a final lopsided look.

Lehtonen impresses as Jokerit hits Loko for six

Jokerit Helsinki 6 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 0 (1-0, 4-0, 1-0)

Jokerit leads the series 1-0

Jokerit could hardly have asked for a better start to its playoff campaign after flattening Lokomotiv in game one in Finland. Games between these two have often produced goals – with Loko winning on its previous three visits to Finland with 5-4, 3-2 and 4-1 scorelines. More recently, the Railwaymen handed Jokerit a 5-0 hammering in Yaroslavl, giving Mike Pelino’s team every reason to believe it could make a strong start to the playoffs here.

Photo: 01.03.20. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Playoffs. Jokerit (Helsinki) - Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)

However, Lauri Marjamaki hadn’t read that script. He sent out his team to drive play forward from the opening seconds. The first period saw the home team dominate the play and Jokerit got its reward late in the frame when Veli-Matti Savinainen got the redirect on a Sami Lepisto point shot to open the scoring.

But the outcome was decided in the middle stanza, with Jokerit firing home four goals without reply. Just 38 seconds after the restart, Peter Regin advanced to the top of the right-hand circle and wired a wrister into the roof of Alexander Lazushin’s net. Mikko Lehtonen got an assist on that, and he contributed again at the midway stage when his point shot was steered away from Lazushin by Niklas Jensen. A home power play saw a goal ruled out for goalie interference before a playbook move saw Saku Maenalanen played the puck from behind the net for Petri Kontiola to rifle home from between the hash marks.

Lazushin’s unhappy afternoon hit a new low late in the frame when his error allowed a short-handed goal. Harried behind his net by Brian O’Neill, the visiting goalie sent the puck straight to Savinainen, who needed no second invitation to slot it into the inviting net.

Not surprisingly, Lazushin was replaced by Ilya Konovalov for the third period, but the youngster could do little to change the pattern of the game. He did, at least, keep the scoring down, beaten just once by a Lehtonen slap shot as the defenseman added a goal to his pair of helpers. At the other end, Loko offered a little more than before but apart from one chance for young Mikhail Belyayev there was little to endanger Antti Niemi’s shut-out in his first KHL playoff appearance.

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Vityaz (Moscow Region) Vityaz (Moscow Region)
Jokerit (Helsinki) Jokerit (Helsinki)
Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl) Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)
SKA (Saint Petersburg) SKA (Saint Petersburg)
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