A youthful SKA roster pulled off a sensational fightback in the third period, clawing back a 0-3 deficit to win the game with 16 seconds left on the clock. In-form Malte Stromwall scored twice, as did exciting young forward Kirill Marchenko.
With the Army Men assured of finishing in second place in the West — no combination of results can move SKA up or down the standings in the final week of the regular season — Valery Bragin was able to rest some of his players and give more game time to the club’s crop of promising youngsters. Red Star, battling with Neftekhimik to escape the basement in the Eastern Conference, had plenty to play for and began the game strongly with a full-strength line-up.
The bare stats from the first period might suggest that SKA had the better of the play. However, although the Dragons had just six shots on goal, they scored twice and generally produced the more incisive offense. Gleb Shashkov opened the scoring in the fourth minute, then Casey Wellman doubled the lead towards the end of the session.
The second period followed a similar pattern, with one more goal for the home team scored when Spencer Foo forced a turnover in his own zone then hared down the ice to beat former Kunlun goalie Magnus Hellberg. With a 3-0 lead at the second intermission, the home team seemed poised to record its first ever home win against SKA and move ahead of Neftekhimik in its basement battle.
However, Red Star knows all about big fightbacks: on Saturday it recovered from 0-4 in Ufa, tying the scores before falling to a late winner for Salavat Yulaev. Today, once again, Alexei Kovalev’s team saw how the hockey pendulum can swing rapidly. First, SKA survived a 3-on-5 PK. Then the visitor scored two goals in the 30 seconds — Stromwall first, then Marchenko — to put the skids under the Dragons. Kovalev called a time-out and things seemed to settle down again ... until the Army Men got their first power play of the game five minutes from the end. Stromwall converted the chance and the visitor managed to wrap up an unlikely win in the final seconds when Marchenko fired home the decisive goal.
Jokerit gained a confidence-boosting victory ahead of its post season — but Monday’s big win dealt a hammer blow to Vityaz’ prospects of making the top eight. Going into the game, the Moscow Region team trailed eighth-placed Spartak by three points, but victory in Helsinki would cut the gap to one. Instead, the visitor wasted its game in hand and has it all to do ahead of the final day showdown between the playoff-chasing rivals.
But the playoff race was not the only story ahead of this game. Jokerit, already safe in its playoff spot, welcomed back Peter Regin after just over a month out of action. The Dane didn’t take long to get back into the groove, notching a poacher’s goal in the eighth minute to put Jokerit ahead. Early in the second, Jordan Schroeder doubled the lead, finding an angle to squeeze his shot past Yegor Voronkov and into the top corner.
Vityaz spent much of the second period on the backfoot, with Jokerit dominating the play and looking likely to extend its lead. However, there was something of a lifeline for the visitor midway through the frame when Daniil Pylenkov’s power play goal halved the deficit. Danila Moiseyev also tested Jokerit’s young goalie Samuel Jukuri and, despite the home team’s control of the play, the game was very much alive going into the third period.
However, Jokerit killed it — and possibly ended Vityaz’ playoff hopes — with two goals in a minute midway through the third. Regin sent Niklas Jensen through to face Ilya Ezhov and the Danish forward made no mistake with a clinical finish. Then Niklas Friman came down the left and his shot took a deflection off the luckless Voronkov on its way to the top corner. That’s Friman’s first KHL goal.
In urgent need of a change of fortune, the visitor replaced Ezhov with Anton Todykov then, almost immediately, recalled the understudy to the bench in favor of a sixth skater after a penalty called on Marko Anttila. However, the gamble backfired disastrously: Jokerit won possession and Julius Junttila fired into the empty net to make it 5-1. That removed any doubt about the final outcome, as Jokerit secured only its third win in 10 games.
Defeat for Vityaz was good news for Dinamo Minsk and Severstal, both of whom are now guaranteed a playoff place this season.