(CSKA leads the series 2-1)
Three goals in 79 seconds midway through the third period transformed this game – and could have a profound impact on the whole series. CSKA, which had trailed 0-2 at the second intermission, jumped into a 5-2 lead on markers from Alexander Popov, Pavel Karnaukhov and Anton Slepyshev, shattering SKA’s composure and moving 2-1 ahead in the Western Conference final.
CSKA went into this game without experienced center Sergei Andronov, but welcomed back defenseman John Gilmour, who missed the last three games. Even before that, the Canadian saw his ice time fall in the series against Dynamo and he remained in the fourth pairing here.
The first period was a hard-fought battle which seemed destined to reach the intermission without a goal. Both teams went close: Andrei Svetlakov’s quick break down the wing set up Popov, but CSKA’s veteran forward was unable to make it three goals in three games on Lars Johansson. At the other end, Andrei Kuzmenko was close to redirecting a shot past Ivan Fedotov, but the home goalie managed to keep it out.
However, with just four seconds to play, SKA broke the deadlock in dramatic fashion. It wasn’t the most elegant of plays, but Igor Ozhiganov’s feed found Nikita Gusev in the center and his shot was powerful enough to squeeze past Fedotov and give the visitor the lead.
Ozhiganov was involved again as SKA doubled that advantage midway through the second stanza. His attempted slap shot was caught up in a scramble of players between the hash marks before Alexander Volkov took control, turning and firing in an effort that beat Fedotov on the stick side.
CSKA had a great chance to reduce the deficit in the 35th minute. A scramble on the SKA crease saw Sergei Plotnikov and Vladislav Kamenev frantically trying to stuff the puck into the net, only to be denied when defensemen Stepan Falkovsky pinned the puck to the ice with his glove. Slepyshev took the penalty shot, but Johansson got his glove to the forward’s wrister.
The Muscovites needed a big lift at the start of the third period, and it came from Maxim Sorkin. The youngster has found an effective partnership with Popov – a real mix of youth and experience – and that combination worked once again with Sorkin collecting a pass from his colleague and surprising everyone with a shot from a negative angle that bounced off Johansson and into the net.
The next big play for the home team came from defenseman Darren Dietz. In his Barys days, he was a noted contributor to the offense; today he pulled off a huge save to keep CSKA in the game. SKA’s power play piled on the pressure and Emil Galimov thought he’d scored when he steered a Gusev feed over Fedotov’s shoulder. However, as the puck dropped, Dietz got back to hook it off the goal line.
The significance of that stop only increased moments later when, back at equal strength, CSKA tied the game through Nikita Nesterov. Konstantin Okulov took the play out of his zone but fell under a challenge on the left-hand boards. As he tumbled, though, he managed to direct the puck into the center circle where Nesterov was surging forward to take possession and advance to beat Johansson. Two goals in 5:12 of the third period tied the game and transformed the mood.
Then it was time for Popov. The 41-year-old is on fire in this series and, on the first shift after Nikita Gusev took a double minor for high sticking, he potted his third goal in three games. That was only the start, nine seconds later it was 4-2 when Pavel Karnaukhov pounced on a weak pass from Falkovsky and rifled the puck home.
SKA’s problems were exacerbated by the fact that this was a passage of 4-on-4 play, Gusev’s foul cancelling out an earlier penalty on Okulov. When the CSKA man returned to the game, the home team had a power play. Roman Rotenberg called a time-out and tried to prepare for this, but to no avail. Slepyshev took advantage to register his 100th KHL goal and open a 5-2 lead.
The visitor did, at least, manage to kill the second part of Gusev’s double minor but the team’s leading scorer had witnessed a transformation in this game as he sat on the sidelines. Three goals in 1:19 ensured that CSKA would regain the lead in this series and Sorkin’s empty-netter merely reinforced the point.