Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Both playoff series in the West started in line with the formbook. However, neither SKA nor Dynamo had it all their own way against the outsiders from Minsk and Cherepovets.

Kuzmenko’s double puts SKA on top

SKA St. Petersburg 4 Dinamo Minsk 2 (0-1, 3-0, 1-1)

(SKA leads the series 1-0)

Prior to the start of this series, much had been written about the pace of the Dinamo team. Many observers rate Craig Woodcroft’s men as the fastest skaters and swiftest movers of the puck in the KHL this season, and there was a strong sense that if the Bison were to spring a surprise, it might come directly from that pace.

Photo: 02.03.21. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Playoffs. SKA (St.Petersburg) - Dinamo (Minsk)

The early exchanges lent weight to that theory. SKA started the game in familiar fashion, keeping the puck in the opposition end and probing for the chance to test Dominik Furch in the visitor’s net. However, inside five minutes, Dinamo showed its counter-attacking licks as Artyom Demkov and Ilya Usov led an odd-man rush that finished with Pavel Varfolomeyev beating Alexander Samonov from close range.

Subsequently, Minsk found itself eating a lot of pressure. The visitor took four penalties — two of them overlapping for 78 seconds — and SKA was able to play its possession hockey relatively unimpeded. However, the Army Men struggled to fashion clear chances: despite spending a clear four minutes longer on the attack than its opponent, Valery Bragin’s team was limited to just six shots on target in the first period. That was partly due to some committed Minsk defense, blocking 13 shots in the opening session, but it was also testament to Dinamo’s ability to keep SKA to the perimeter and limit its opportunities to create really dangerous openings.

That all changed in the second period, though, as SKA found three unanswered goals. Andrei Kuzmenko got two of them, tying the scores after Anton Burdasov went around the net and set up Vasily Tokranov for a shot that was deflected into the forward’s path. Then, on the power play, he put SKA in front a couple of minutes later with a lazer of a wrist shot from the right-hand circle that ripped inside Furch’s near post. Then Vasily Podkolzin sprinkled some sugar on top of a fine period for the home team when he fired home a third goal. SKA found a way to convert its territorial advantage into shots and goals, taking control of the game before the second intermission.

Many expected little else from this match-up, with SKA rich in playoff experience while Minsk was back in post-season for the first time since 2017. But this season’s Bison are a cut above the editions of the last few years, and the visitor showed enough in the third to suggest that this series might not be one-way traffic. True, Dinamo failed to capitalize on its first two power plays of the game, but midway through the session, after forcing a turnover, another pacey counter-attack saw Demkov set up Kirill Voronin for a one-timer that was deflected into the SKA net.

That made it a one-goal game once more, but Dinamo’s hopes of pressing on were hampered almost immediately when Stepan Falkovsky sat for a foul on Artyom Shvets-Rogovoi. The visitor survived that, but was caught out late in the game when Joonas Kemppainen made it 4-2 and ended Minsk’s chances of forcing overtime.

Jaskin’s goal makes the difference

Dynamo Moscow 1 Severstal Cherepovets 0 (0-0, 1-0, 0-0)

(Dynamo leads the series 1-0)

A solitary marker from Dmitrij Jaskin was enough to give Dynamo Moscow a hard-fought win at the start of this playoff series. The Blue-and-Whites, despite finishing third in the standings, came into the game with the second best regular-season record in the West. In addition, Vladimir Krikunov’s team boasted huge scoring power in the form of Jaskin and his colleague, Vadim Shipachyov, who dominated the goals and points in regular season.

Photo: 02.03.21. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Playoffs. Dynamo (Moscow) - Severstal (Cherepovets)

However, Severstal was not about to roll over on its return to post season for the first time since 2018. Indeed, you have to go back to 2012 for the last time the Steelmen won a playoff game — and back then, Shipachyov was a prospect making a name for himself in Cherepovets. For Andrei Razin’s team, the big task this season is show that reaching the second phase of the championship is not the limit of its ambitions and a gritty performance in Moscow suggests that there could be some life in this series.

The first period set the tone for this hard-fought contest. Dynamo had more of the play, but struggled to break down a hard-working Severstal team. Chances were hard to come by as both defenses worked hard to defuse the danger and the two goalies mopped up the shots that came their way.

It wasn’t until the start of the second period that the deadlock was broken and the opening goal, inevitably, came from Jaskin. The KHL’s leading goalscorer in regular season added to his 38 goals so far in 2020-2021 with his first contribution to this year’s playoffs. And, if you’ve heard of no-look passes, check this one out for a no-look shot. Artyom Volkov’s shot was padded away to the edge of the circle where Jaskin seemed to drifting out of position under the attentions of Severstal’s Makar Khabarov. However, the Czech has a supernatural instinct for the location of both the puck and the net and whirled around with his back to goal to get a shot past Vladislav Podyapolsky. That was also Dynamo’s 300th playoff goal in the KHL.

Far from opening the floodgates, though, the opening goal merely increased the needle in the game. Ivan Igumnov tangled with Shawn Lalonde midway through the second period and, while there was little overt aggression on view, there was a sense of tempers fraying on both sides as the action went on. Early in the third another spat bubbled over, with Vladislav Yefremov squaring up to Dmitry Moiseyev. The Dynamo man earned a double minor for his pains, but Severstal was unable to take advantage of the power play. And midway through the third Lalonde was involved in another flashpoint when his ill-timed hit on the blue line angered the Dynamo players and fans. The Canadian was called for kneeing but the tenor of the game still favored Severstal as the visitor tried desperately to find a way back into the game.

However, to do that, the Steelmen had to get past Alexander Yeryomenko. The Dynamo veteran knows everything there is to know about playoff hockey — he was MVP two seasons running when the Blue-and-Whites won back-to-back cups and even as he nears the end of his playing career, he’s still a formidable opponent for any forward. His 27 saves kept Dynamo’s lead intact to the end. It wasn’t always the prettiest of hockey, but the Muscovites will feel that tonight’s game was a professional job of starting their latest bid for glory.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Related clubs

Dinamo (Minsk) Dinamo (Minsk)
Dynamo (Moscow) Dynamo (Moscow)
Severstal (Cherepovets) Severstal (Cherepovets)
SKA (Saint Petersburg) SKA (Saint Petersburg)
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