Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Jokerit has started its playoff campaign with a real statement of intent: two wins, 11 goals scored and just one allowed. Tuesday brought a 5-1 win over Lokomotiv to put the Finns in control of the series before heading to Yaroslavl for game three on Thursday. SKA also has a 2-0 lead, but had a more difficult evening against Vityaz before edging a 4-3 scoreline.

Free-scoring Finns impress in Helsinki

Jokerit Helsinki 5 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 1 (3-0, 1-1, 1-0)

Jokerit leads the series 2-0

A second big victory for Jokerit put the Finns in control of their first-round playoff series against Lokomotiv. After winning 6-0 in the opener on Sunday, Jokerit scored four without reply early in this game, making it 10 unanswered goals in total and paving the way for another convincing margin. Lokomotiv recovered somewhat and scored its first goal of the series thanks to Magnus Paajarvi Svensson, but Mike Pelino and his team face a big task to turn this one around when the action moves to Yaroslavl on Thursday.

Photo: 03.03.20. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Playoffs. Jokerit (Helsinki) - Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)

Jokerit made a couple of changes to its roster for this one, with Janis Kalnins taking over goaltending duties from Antti Niemi and defenseman Alex Grant returning to the team. Loko, despite its heavy loss in the opening game, also made minimal changes. Ilya Konovalov continued after replacing Alexander Lazushin partway through Sunday’s game, while Alexander Polunin came into the line-up as the 13th attacker.

It didn’t take long for the home team to continue where it left off in Sunday’s game. Inside the first two minutes, Jokerit opened the scoring when Antti Pihlstrom won a face-off and Marko Anttila collected the puck and fired home a shot from the top of the circle to beat Konovalov. The visiting goalie’s view of the shot may have been obscured by his own team-mate.

Midway through the frame, the first penalties of the night left the teams playing 4-on-4. Jokerit took advantage of the extra space, with Brian O’Neill breaking forward and setting up David Sklenicka for a shot from the left-hand dot to make it 2-0. And O’Neill got his second point of the game when he teed up Sami Lepisto for a slap shot that bounced through Konovalov’s defenses to end the goalie’s evening in the 16th minute. With a shot count of 16-3 in the home team’s favor, this game was in danger of turning even more one-sided than the first.

Incoming goalie Lazushin was beaten early in the second period when Saku Maenalanen reacted fastest to a big rebound in front of the Loko net. The visitor finally got on the scoreboard – its first goal of the game and the series – in the 27th minute when Magnus Paajarvi Svensson got his stick to a Stephane Da Costa feed and steered it past Kalnins.

However, there was no sign of a fightback from the Railwaymen. The home defense was too strong to allow good chances for Loko to reduce the deficit, even as the visitor looked to raise the tempo in the third period. Late in the game, a power play chance saw Lazushin called to the bench as Pelino set up a 6-on-4 play in search of a way back into the game; instead the action ended as it began with Anttila and Pihlstrom combining for another goal.

Vityaz gives SKA a scare

SKA St. Petersburg 4 Vityaz Moscow Region 3 (0-1, 4-0, 0-2)

SKA leads the series 2-0

After an emphatic 6-1 victory in the opening game, SKA might have hoped that it had dealt a blow to the team spirit of its opponent. Vityaz, always an outsider in this series, seemed to be overpowered at the end of that game and faced a big task to pick itself up in time to make a fight of things in game two.

Photo: 03.03.20. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Playoffs. SKA (St.Petersburg) - Vityaz (Moscow Region)

However, the Podolsk team showed plenty of heart to push SKA all the way in this game. Despite coming up short and heading to home ice with a 0-2 deficit in the series, Vityaz demonstrated that it can make a contest of this quarter-final pairing.

It started with a big first-period display. Vityaz went undaunted into the arena, took the game to SKA and got its reward when Quinton Howden wired a shot from out wide past Alexander Samonov in the home net midway through the frame. The lead lasted until the intermission, long enough to raise some questions about SKA’s ability to get back into the game.

Those questions were answered resoundingly in the second stanza as the home team shot home four unanswered goals. Sergei Plotnikov converted the first power play of the game to tie the scores in the 23rd minute, firing an Igor Ozhiganov feed into a gaping net. Midway through the session, Evgeny Ketov slipped the puck through Ilya Ezhov’s five hole as he stood on the doorstep. That put SKA in front, and a couple of minutes later the youngsters extended the lead when Kirill Marchenko set up Vasily Podkolzin for his first playoff goal. A beautifully-worked power play combination saw Joonas Kemppainen make it 4-1 before the second break, and that seemed to be the end for Vityaz.

However, that was far from the end of the story. Despite an unpromising situation, Vityaz took the battle to SKA once more. Midway through the third, Howden potted his second of the game when he grabbed the puck and advanced to unleash a shot not dissimilar to his opening goal. An unlikely fightback became far more real three minutes later when captain Alexei Makeyev gleefully slammed the puck home after Daniil Pylenkov’s shot prompted pinball on Samonov’s crease.

It wasn’t quite enough to save the game; SKA closed out the remaining minutes and even came close to adding a fifth when Kemppainen hit the post. But the Army Men came off the ice knowing that they had been in a real battle and head coach Alexei Kudashov was quick to remind his players that, regardless of the situation in the game or the series, there is no scope for relaxation when the playoffs come around.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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