(CSKA leads the series 2-0)
After losing out in the opening game, SKA head coach Valery Bragin rang the changes. Malte Stromwall, last seen in the 1-4 loss at home to Dynamo in the opening game of the previous round, returned to the offense, as did Kirill Marchenko, who was rested in Friday’s 0-3 loss here. Andrei Kuzmenko and Evgeny Ketov made way. In addition, Alexander Samonov continued in goal after replacing Magnus Hellberg in the previous game. The Swede was not involved in Sunday’s game, creating space for Stromwall as an extra import skater on the visitor’s team.
Lars Johansson, whose unbeaten run in playoff games against SKA now stretches to 295 minutes, was busiest in the first period, with SKA starting on the front foot as it looked to erase the 0-1 deficit in the series and head home with the scoreline level. CSKA was pushed back for long periods, absorbing plenty of pressure from the visitor, but the Petersburg team struggled to carve out big chances. Late in the frame, Marchenko went close when a patient build-up ended with the youngster firing a shot to the inside corner, only for Johansson to shrug away the danger.
CSKA’s progress is not all about Johansson, though. Maxim Shalunov is also in red-hot form and he opened the scoring at the start of the second, potting his third goal in three games. This time, Shalunov collected Konstantin Okulov’s pass down the right flank, crossed the blue line and beat Samonov with a wrist shot from the top of the circle. The visiting goalie may feel he could have done better with a shot that he saw all the way, but he redeemed himself with a couple of good saves soon afterwards, most notably saving his defense’s blushes after Andrei Loktionov intercepted a wayward pass and headed towards goal.
The middle frame saw the home team get on top, neutralizing the edge that SKA enjoyed during the opening stanza. And, given the parsimonious nature of the CSKA defense in these playoffs, even a one-goal lead represents a colossal advantage. And, with SKA unable to take advantage of a pair of power plays in the third period, it was enough to take the win. Only in the last seconds did the home team double its lead, with Okulov shooting into an empty net to stretch his productive streak to five games and extinguish any lingering doubts about the outcome of the game.
It all adds up to a perfect start for CSKA, which heads north buoyed by two victories and no goals conceded. For Bragin, the pressure is on: his team needs to solve Johansson quickly if it is to make a contest of this series. The action continues in Petersburg on Tuesday.