Andy Potts Andy Potts
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It was another good day for Jokerit, with a 3-0 win on the road in Yaroslavl opening a 3-0 lead in the series. The Finns have allowed just one goal in 180 minutes in this series so far to move to within a single victory of progress. SKA is in a similarly happy position after a convincing victory on the road at Vityaz gave Alexei Kudashov’s team a 3-0 advantage in that series.

Finns continue to dominate

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 0 Jokerit Helsinki 3 (0-1, 0-0, 0-2)

Jokerit leads the series 3-0

Jokerit’s stranglehold on this series shows no sign of letting up. The Finns took a 3-0 lead with victory in Yaroslavl on Thursday as the defense once again stifled the Railwaymen’s attacking options.

Photo: 05.03.20. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Playoffs. Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl) - Jokerit (Helsinki)

For Loko, meanwhile, scoring goals is becoming a matter of urgency. Blanked in game one, Mike Pelino’s team managed just one marker in Tuesday’s 1-5 loss in Helsinki. Here, again, the Finnish defense was strong – another shut-out backstopped a win that puts Jokerit on the brink of completing its first-round series.

With two losses on the road, Lokomotiv needed a strong start in front of its own fans. But that prospect was shattered in the first minute when Viktor Loov fired Jokerit in front. There were just 57 seconds on the clock when Loov collected a pass from Saku Maenalanen and smashed home a point shot. The home team had two power play chances in the opening frame but struggled to stretch Kalnins in the first period as Jokerit protected its lead.

In the middle stanza, Lokomotiv had chances to tie the scores. Vladimir Tkachyov fired over the top after Jokerit’s defense showed a rare moment of weakness and allowed a 3-on-1 breakaway. Then Magnus Paajarvi Svensson, the only Loko goalscorer in the series so far, got into a good shooting position on another power play but put his attempt wide of Kalnins’ net.

Into the third period, and Niklas Jensen came to the fore. The Danish international suffered a serious injury in regular season but recovered to post 25 (10+15) in 27 games. Today he collected two more, taking his post season tally to 5 (2+3) as he dictated play in the final frame. His first big contribution came on the power play with a superb assist on Maenalanen’s goal. The Dane went flashing behind the net and spotted that Nikita Cherepanov had left a passing lane open at the far post. With goalie Alexander Lazushin anticipating Jensen’s return on the wraparound, a well-placed pass for Maenalanen gave last year’s Calder Cup winner an open net to aim for.

With 10 minutes to play, Jensen scored himself. It was a similar play, using his pace to get away from the defense and go behind the net. This time, though, there was no need for a pass as he blazed out from behind the target and slid the puck beyond Lazushin’s pads for a wraparound finish. The arena fell silent, the extent of Loko’s plight all too apparent.

Yaroslavl’s problems in this series deepen with each passing game. It’s not just that Jokerit keeps winning, it’s that the Finns are performing so strongly that their opponent has little opportunity to compete. The Helsinki PK has looked almost impregnable, and while Lokomotiv had 35 attempts at Kalnins’ net in this game, it rarely managed to force big saves out of the Latvian goalie. This series could be wrapped up on Saturday when the teams meet for the fourth time.

SKA too strong for Vityaz

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

SKA leads the series 3-0

Another commanding performance from the Army Men put Alexei Kudashov’s team one win away from progressing to the Conference Semi-Finals. Once again, there was a big contribution from the young cadets as SKA effectively ended this game as a contest with an impressive first period in Podolsk. Vityaz, defeated for a third time, now runs a serious risk of completing a third playoff campaign without managing to win a single game.

Photo: 05.03.20. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Playoffs. Vityaz (Moscow Region) - SKA (St.Petersburg)

It said much about the gulf between these teams that Vityaz spent four of the first 10 minutes on the power play – and found itself 2-0 down midway through the first period. SKA simply soaked up the pressure when it was a man down, and dominated play at equal strength. The breakthrough came with two goals in quick succession as the team’s youngsters impressed once again. First, defenseman Danila Galenyuk joined his more attack-minded colleagues on the scoresheet with the opening goal, blasting home a one-timer off Anton Belov’s feed. Just 33 seconds later, Kirill Marchenko sent Ivan Morozov to the races and the teenage forward got a shot beneath Igor Saprykin’s pad to double the lead. Saprykin left the game, Ilya Ezhov stepped up, but SKA continued to score goals.

The latter stages of the opening frame brought two power play goals for the Army Men. First, Anton Burdasov set up Vladimir Tkachyov to make it 3-0 then, with five seconds left until the intermission, Tkachyov went around the back to return the favor for Burdasov to pot number four.

On Tuesday, Vityaz had attempted a brave fightback in the third period in Petersburg. Trailing 1-4, Mikhail Kravets’ team made it a one-goal game and offered signs that it might offer battle to SKA when the action moved to Podolsk. Today, though, there was no way back. The second period saw the home team work hard to find a way to reduce the deficit, but Magnus Hellberg was solid in the visitor’s net and stopped the 17 shots that came his way. And the SKA power play clicked once more with Vasily Podkolzin’s pace and shot enabling Kirill Marchenko to score on the rebound.

The third period brought a fine individual goal from Alexander Barabanov. He got the puck in his own zone, danced around Evgeny Artyukhin then burst between two defensemen before going top shelf to make it 6-0. Summing up the day for Vityaz, that play came seconds after a big chance at the other end saw the home team go close to a consolation goal.

If there was a worry for SKA, it was the penalty count. The visitor took eight minor penalties in the game, and even had to kill a spell of 3-on-5 play in the closing minutes. Vityaz was unable to take advantage of that – while SKA’s own power play scored three times – but Kudashov might be concerned that a stronger opponent could punish similar indiscipline during the race for the big prize.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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