Andy Potts Andy Potts
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CSKA made an impressive start to the Western Conference final, blanking SKA in the first instalment of this Army Derby. Two goals late in the first period put the home team in control of the game, and a third strike in the 45th minute ended any doubts about the outcome. Lars Johansson made 23 saves to record his fourth shut-out in 12 playoff appearances this season.

CSKA Moscow 3 SKA St. Petersburg 0 (2-0, 0-0, 0-0)

(CSKA leads the series 1-0)

The Muscovites came into Friday’s game after just three days’ break: their conference semi-final series against Lokomotiv needed all seven games, while SKA defeated Dynamo Moscow in five. Both teams, though, limited themselves to one significant change. Kirill Marchenko missed out for SKA for the first time in this year’s playoffs. The 21-year-old was limited to just 3:58 in the decisive 4-0 victory over Dynamo Moscow on March 26 as the Army Men sealed their passage to the Conference Final — significantly below his average ice time of 12:16 in this year’s playoffs. Fit again Evgeny Ketov replaced the youngster and resumed his role as captain.

Photo: 02.04.21. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Playoffs. CSKA (Moscow) - SKA (St.Petersburg)

CSKA brought Canadian forward Brendan Leipsic back into the team. He contributed five points in four outings against Spartak, but his only appearances against Lokomotiv corresponded with two defeats in that seven-game struggle in round two and he lost his place to Mario Kempe. However, Igor Nikitin sprang a small surprise by reversing that selection. The coach might have felt the need to explore the depth of his roster, given his team’s limited preparation time, but in the event it seemed that the longer rest robbed SKA of some game readiness and, in the last minutes of the opening frame, that helped a sharp CSKA get a grip on the game.

The home team went ahead late in the first period after a play that visiting defenseman Lukas Bengtsson will be keen to forget. The Swede attempted a slap shot, but instead he snapped his stick and steered the puck gently to Andrei Svetlakov. The CSKA forward was alert to the sight of Mat Robinson returning from the penalty box and a pass out wide released the home D-man while Bengtsson jettisoned the remains of his stick and struggled to get back into position for the inevitable breakaway. Robinson was largely unmolested and calmly set up Ivan Telegin for the opening goal.

And CSKA’s second also owed plenty to SKA’s hesitancy, this time with Emil Galimov struggling to get the puck out of the defensive zone. He inadvertently presented Andrei Loktionov with possession in the left-hand circle. Loktionov fed Anton Slepyshev, whose wrister beat Hellberg and doubled the home lead. Two goals in 54 seconds changed the face of the game and prompted Valery Bragin to send understudy goalie Alexander Samonov into the fray for the second period.

Samonov was called into action early, denying Slepyshev on the breakaway, but the middle session was goalless and the teams managed just 12 shots on goal between them. SKA, in need of greater attacking impetus, had eight of those efforts but struggled to really test Lars Johansson as CSKA displayed smart game management and controlled the puck well throughout.

And the chances of a recovery from the visitor receded at the start of the third when Maxim Shalunov added a third goal. Once again, SKA found it difficult to clear its lines and the puck went to Konstantin Okulov behind the goal line. His diagonal pass was perfectly placed for Shalunov, and the forward gave Samonov no chance.

In the closing stages tempers boiled over. Bogdan Kiselevich ruffled feathers with a big hit, and Evgeny Timkin was quick to remonstrate with the home defenseman. The battle spilled over: CSKA’s John Gilmour and SKA’s Vladislav Kamenev also got involved, with the home team eventually gaining a two-minute power play once the dust settled.

That was the last incident of note. SKA was unable to muster even a consolation goal; Klas Dahlbeck’s optimistic attempt at an empty net goal from deep in CSKA’s zone went narrowly wide in the final seconds. The teams meet again on Sunday with SKA looking to resurrect its chances quickly.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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