Andy Potts Andy Potts
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CSKA came through unscathed in game seven of its Western Conference semi-final, blanking Lokomotiv to complete the line-up for the last four. Victory sets up a Western final against SKA, a familiar Army derby at this stage of the competition, with Igor Nikitin’s team looking to maintain its grip on the trophy it lifted in 2019.

CSKA Moscow 2 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 0 (2-0, 0-0, 0-0)

(CSKA wins the series 4-3)

Not for the first time in this series, victory owed much to defensive rigor. Although this was the first time CSKA shut out Lokomotiv, it is notable that only once in the series did we see both teams score twice. Typically, each game was won by the team that did the better job behind the puck — and tonight, without question, that was the Army Men. Goalie Lars Johansson made 24 saves, and there were a further 21 shots blocked as the Muscovites stifled the visiting offense.

Photo: 29.03.21. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Playoffs. CSKA (Moscow) - Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)

But there were also impressive spells of pressure from the home offense, particularly early in the second period when Lokomotiv was unable to generate any offense and had to rely on Eddie Pasquale’s brilliance to keep his team in contention. Pasquale, a huge player in each of Loko’s wins in this series, produced three top-drawer saves in that spell, ensuring that the game remained alive until deep into the third period.

In a series where every game was won by the team that scored first, neither team was likely to throw caution to the wind in the early stages. However, after both sides carefully rolled their lines, Lokomotiv got the first meaningful chance when it caught CSKA changing on the fly and Vladimir Tkachyov was close to picking out a team-mate at the back door while the home defense scurried back into position.

However, the Army Men hit back to convert the first power play of the game, taking an eighth-minute lead when Mat Robinson stepped up from the blue line to despatch a slap shot over Pasquale’s pads. And the home team was close to extending its lead a couple of minutes later when a freak deflection presented Andrei Svetlakov with a gilt-edged chance that squirted wide of the target.

The second goal was not long in coming, though. A chip-and-chase down the CSKA right released Konstantin Okulov. The leading point scorer in this series spun away from his opponent and sent the puck between the hash marks, where Maxim Shalunov got in front of Denis Barantsev to double the lead.

Lokomotiv called a time-out in a bid to regroup and start the game afresh, but even at this early stage it was difficult to see a way back for the Railwaymen. And CSKA looked to press home its advantage in the second period, dominating the play up to the 30-minute mark. The home team created several good chances, but Pasquale was equal to everything that came his way. The visiting goalie stoned Svetlakov after he was sent through by Ivan Telegin, snuffed out a one-timer from Sergei Andronov and, best of all, pulled off a stunning save to deny Maxim Sorkin.

After that, though, a penalty on Artyom Blazhiyevsky enabled Lokomotiv to gain a foothold in the game, and the remainder of the middle frame was evenly contested. That gave visiting forward Andre Petersson grounds for optimism: in a flash interview at the second intermission, he suggested that the nerves would start to jangle as the end of the series drew closer and hoped that Lokomotiv, having stayed in contention, could pile on the pressure with goals in the third.

Certainly, the Railwaymen were eager to get pucks to the net at the start of the third. And, with a kinder bounce, Anton Lander might have made it a one-goal game in the 44th minute but a rebound of Johansson’s pads narrowly evaded the forward’s stick. Yegor Korshkov fired narrowly wide, and the Swede made another important save to deny Maxim Osipov after Denis Alexeyev set up a shooting chance for the visiting blue liner.

However, once CSKA survived a penalty on Shalunov, Loko’s last chance was gone. The teams still had five minutes to play when the home forward returned to the game, but the visitor was struggling to create genuine danger around the Army Men’s net.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl) Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)
CSKA (Moscow) CSKA (Moscow)
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