Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Metallurg and Traktor are the first teams to secure their playoff spots. Ak Bars won 5-1 at Avtomobilist to ensure the top two in the East cannot be removed from the top eight. Metallurg, though, was unable to celebrate that achievement and suffered a 0-1 loss at Dinamo Minsk. SKA is back on top of the Western Conference thanks to a 3-1 win at Admiral, Salavat Yulaev won 2-1 at Barys and both Spartak and Sibir had useful victories in their playoff pushes.

SKA returns to Western summit

Admiral Vladivostok 1 SKA St. Petersburg 3 (1-0, 0-2, 0-1)

It didn’t take long for the Army Men to return to the top of the Western Conference table. Dynamo Moscow snatched the lead in dramatic fashion last night, but Wednesday’s action began with SKA overcoming Admiral to regain first place.

The stats favored SKA, but the visitor struggled to impose itself in a first period that offered few scoring opportunities. Indeed, it was something of a surprise to see the deadlock broken before the intermission but Admiral D-man Dinar Khamidullin found the way to goal after making an effective contribution to the offense.

Early in the second period the home team might have extended its lead when Alexander Samonov got caught in possession behind his net. Samonov was playing his first KHL game since October — he’s seen more international action since then — and after his reprieve his team-mates began to turn the game around. Daniil Pylenkov tied it up in the 26th minute and Andrei Kuzmenko gave the visitor the lead. That goal came shortly after Libor Sulak had a one-on-one duel with Samonov but fired wide of the target.

Early in the third, Admiral wasted another good chance when it failed to score in 5-on-3 play. And SKA sealed its win thanks to Evgeny Timkin’s 54th-minute marker.

Photo: 29.12.21. KHL Championship 2021-2022. Admiral (Vladivostok) - SKA (St.Petersburg)

Jokipakka’s strike sinks Neftekhimik

Sibir Novosibirsk 3 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 2 OT (0-1, 1-0, 1-1, 1-0)

Sibir battled past Neftekhimik to improve to four wins from five games in a hard-fought clash in Siberia. The teams are currently sixth and seventh in the East, and although the home team has a comfortable lead over today’s visitor, both are still looking for points to secure their playoff berths.

Neftekhimik made the brighter start but struggled to turn its early enterprise into scoring chances. Indeed, Sibir had more or less played itself into the game before the visitor’s pressing paid dividends late in the opening frame. Evgeny Chesalin and Denis Bodrov were unable to clear their lines and that enabled Pavel Padakin to set up Evgeny Mityakin for his second goal in successive games.

Sibir responded in the second, when Anton Shenfeld marked his return to fitness with a great feed to release Alexander Sharov for the tying goal. Then, towards the end of the third, the teams traded quick goals with Yegor Alanov’s effort swiftly cancelled out by Slava Leshchenko. That’s five goals in five successive games for Leshchenko since he joined Neftekhimik.

It wasn’t enough to escape defeat for the visitor, though. Three minutes into the extras, Jyrki Jokipakka grabbed the gamewinner to consolidate Sibir’s grip on sixth place.

Salavat too strong for Barys

Barys Nur-Sultan 1 Salavat Yulaev Ufa 2 (0-1, 1-1, 0-0)

Barys was looking to boost its playoff hopes and build on Monday’s shoot-out success against Avtomobilist but found Salavat Yulaev too tough in its final home game of 2021.

Ufa continued without Teemu Hartikainen and Sakari Manninen, who missed the loss at Sibir earlier this week, and deployed Viktor Tikhonov to center the first line here.

The first period was disrupted by regular penalties, but the teams maintained a fast tempo. Salavat Yulaev was quick to push its defensemen forward and often tested Joni Ortio from long range. The opening goal arrived in the 13th minute when Sergei Shmelyov was first to react to a bouncing puck.

Barys got back on level terms early in the middle frame when a 5-on-3 power play enabled Linden Vey to tie the scores. However, it wasn’t long before the visitor reasserted itself. Alexander Kadeikin was denied in a one-on-one with Ortio, but then produced a great pass to set up Shmelyov’s second goal of the game.

Photo: 29.12.21. KHL Championship 2021-2022. Barys (Nur-Sultan) - Salavat Yulaev (Ufa)

Barberio gets first KHL points

Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg 1 Ak Bars Kazan 5 (0-3, 0-0, 1-2)

The problems for Avtomobilist continue, with the Motormen suffering a sixth successive loss and remaining adrift of the playoff places. Today’s defeat, which was effectively sealed in the first period, was a heavy one and suggests that Nikolai Zavarukhin has a big job on his hands to steer this team back into the top eight.

For Ak Bars, there were twin highlights. Artyom Galimov scored twice to pace the win, while Mark Barberio had a goal and an assist to record his first points in the KHL. The 31-year-old Canadian defenseman looks to be settling into his new role fast.

His new team-mates also settled into their game quickly: Avtomobilist struggled to compete in the first period and fell behind inside four minutes thanks to Galimov’s first of the game. Making things worse, Zavarukhin made an unsuccessful appeal and the home team took a bench minor for its pains. Ten minutes later, Ak Bars scored again when Barberio set up Mikhail Glukhov for a one-timer that chased Dmitry Shikin from the net and brought Vladimir Galkin into the game. Galkin was soon looking behind him, though, as Ilya Safonov added a third.

At the start of the second period, Avtomobilist had the puck in the net but Ak Bars launched a successful challenge for goalie interference and the play was whistled down. Subsequently, a goalless middle frame produced more penalties than scoring opportunities as the home team failed to find a way back into contention.

Any lingering doubts about the outcome were extinguished midway through the third. Avtomobilist survived two minutes of 3-on-5 PK, but was undone soon afterwards when Danis Zaripov skated into the danger zone and set up Barberio for his first KHL goal. A minute later, Galimov’s second made it 5-0 and Pavel Kulikov’s late power play goal was scant consolation for the host.

As a footnote to Ak Bars’ emphatic victory, the first playoff qualifiers are now confirmed. Eastern Conference leaders Metallurg and Traktor can no longer be caught by the ninth-placed Motormen.

Photo: 29.12.21. KHL Championship 2021-2022. Avtomobilist (Yekaterinburg) - Ak Bars (Kazan)

Khokhlachyov leads Spartak to victory

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 2 Spartak Moscow 4 (0-2, 0-1, 2-1)

Alexander Khokhlachyov signed a contract extension at Spartak today — and immediately celebrated with two points in an important win for the Red-and-Whites. The victory moves the Muscovites to within a point of the Railwaymen, encouraging Boris Mironov’s men to look up the table rather than anxiously peering over their shoulders at the chasing pack in the playoff race.

The visitor made a fast start here, scoring twice in the first six minutes to establish a lead that it would never relinquish. Danila Kvartalnov potted the first, finishing off a two-on-one break by himself to claim his second KHL goal. Three minutes later, Ilya Baranov was credited with the second when he fired the puck to the slot from behind the net and benefitted from a ricochet off Rushan Rafikov’s skate. Spartak would finish the frame with two goals from five shots, but Loko was also struggling to create chances.

The second period was very different. The home team started on the front foot and created plenty of opportunities. The best of them fell to Pavel Kraskovsky, who somehow missed an open goal midway through the session. Khokhlachyov’s first contribution came in the 36th minute, setting up Alexander Nikishin to make it 3-0.

Finally, Loko got its offense together in the third. Yegor Korshkov scored 40 seconds after the restart, then Artyom Anisimov made it 2-3 when his 46th-minute marker survived a challenge from the Spartak bench. That brought the first of two Lokomotiv power plays as the home team went hard for a tying goal but the visitor held on and scored with only its second shot of the period when Khokhlachyov found the empty net to seal the verdict.

Photo: 29.12.21. KHL Championship 2021-2022. Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl) - Spartak (Moscow)

Rybar denies Metallurg

Dinamo Minsk 1 Metallurg Magnitogorsk 0 (1-0, 0-0, 0-0)

Metallurg was unable to celebrate its playoff place with a victory in Belarus, losing out to the only goal of a hard fought game. The home team took two valuable points in its own race for the playoffs, and now holds a four-point lead over ninth-placed Torpedo.

Dinamo had traded 20 goals in its previous two outings, beating Kunlun Red Star 6-4 before losing to CSKA by the same scoreline. Today, however, was a very different game. Artyom Demkov gave the home team the lead with a power play goal in the eighth minute, but subsequently defenses were on top. Patrik Rybar stopped 35 shots in the Dinamo net — five of them from Metallurg defenseman Linus Hultstrom, who produced a lively display — as Magnitka failed to score for the first time this season.

Rybar’s performance was all the more significant considering the lack of back-up for the Slovakian goalie. Due to illness and injury, Dinamo was forced to name forward Pavel Varfolomeyev as the second goalie on the roster.

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