2017 began with a clutch of close games: in Minsk, Dinamo edged SKA by the odd goal in nine; elsewhere there were shoot-outs in Nizhnekamsk and Novosibirsk. Dynamo Moscow won by the odd goal in five, Vityaz by the odd goal in seven and Medvescak by the only goal of the game. Even Magnitka’s 4-2 win at Lada saw the defending champion recover from 0-2 to take the points.
In the second period, SKA was facing an unprecedented beating in a season of majestic progress. In the third, Dinamo was contemplating the serious prospect of giving up a five-goal lead. 2017 got underway with a bang in Minsk.
The home team, fresh from its exploits in the Spengler Cup during the festive period, seemed full of the reviving effects of the Alpine air it sampled in Davas, while SKA looked to be struggling with a holiday hangover in the early stages. Fredrik Pettersson scored in the sixth minute, wasting little time in celebrating his first KHL game for Dinamo. SKA surged forward in response, but found Ben Scrivens in unyielding mood as he stopped 17 shots on goal.
The middle stanza, though, began with an astonishing SKA collapse as Dinamo rattled up four goals inside 12 minutes to take a seemingly unbreakable grip on the game. Aaron Palushaj got the second in the 22nd minute before Pettersson got his second of the night on a 26th-minute power play. A penalty on Andrei Stas handed the momentum back to the visitor, but Andrei Stepanov broke out to make it 4-0 and Sergei Drozd added a fifth on 33:32.
Few would have believed that Drozd’s marker would ultimately be the game-winner, even after Ilya Kovalchuk clawed one back on a power play late in the second. SKA was struggling to turn possession and shots into clear scoring chances, and Scrivens seemed to have the measure of the Petersburg offense.
All that changed in the third, though. Pavel Datsyuk conjured up SKA’s second to set nerves on edge, Evgeny Dadonov made it 3-5 with 10 minutes to play and when Yegor Yakovlev made it a one-goal game with exactly seven minutes remaining, Oleg Znarok’s team scented a remarkable recovery.
It wasn’t to be. Dinamo dug deep, Scrivens recaptured his first-period form. Gradually, the home team managed to weather the storm and run down the clock. The siren confirmed a sixth successive win for the Belarusians, reinforcing that playoff push. More surprisingly, it also heralded a third successive loss for SKA; too soon to call a crisis, but food for thought as the focus begins to shift to the likely post-season match-ups.
Lada let slip a 2-0 lead to slip to defeat at home to the defending champion.
The first period saw the Streltsov brothers combine to put Lada in front, with Alexander setting up Vasily for the opening goal. Andrei Ivanov doubled that lead in the 26th minute as Lada looked to be on the road to victory.
Home goalie Edgars Masalskis was heavily overworked in the middle stanza, and Metallurg’s dominance did not let up in the third. Semin made it 3-2 early on and the visitor outshot Lada 16-4 in the final stanza. The Latvian goalie performed strongly to keep the game in the balance until the 55th minute when Vladislav Kaletnik put the outcome beyond doubt with a power play goal.
It took time for this game to ignite, with neither side creating clear opportunities in the first period.
But the first intermission handed Dynamo a wake-up call. Juuso Hietanen was the first to respond, firing in a shot that deflected off Maxim Karpov to beat Dominik Furch and open the scoring in the 22nd minute. A power play goal from Denis Kokarev doubled Dynamo’s advantage
Avangard had to wait until the 50th minute to get on the scoreboard through Nikolai Lemtyugov, but Dynamo responded almost immediately as Karpov got his second of the night. That proved decisive, despite a late goal from Vladimir Sobotka as the home team pushed hard to salvage the game.
Andrei Kareyev produced an heroic performance between the piping for Neftekhimik, making 61 saves in the game before denying Salavat Yulaev in the shoot-out to earn his team a 1-0 victory.
Neither side could find a breakthrough, despite the visitor creating plenty of chances throughout 65 minutes of action. In the shoot-out, though, the scoring suddenly flowed. Igor Bortnikov and Sergei Konkov succeeded with two attempts each for Neftekhimik, while Linus Omark (2) and Stepan Khripunov finally found a way past Kareyev. But the goalie got the better of Omark at the third time of asking to clinch the win.
Vityaz tightened its grip on a playoff place after ending a two-game losing streak to open a six-point gap over HC Sochi.
Three goals in two first-period minutes set the visitor on its way in Novokuznetsk. Roman Horak got the opener before turning provider as Alexei Kopeikin made it 2-0 on the power play. Alexei Makeyev quickly added a third as Metallurg looked to be in disarray.
But the home team hit back after the intermission through Igor Skorokhodov and Kirill Semyonov, only for Mario Kempe to ease Vityaz’s nerves and make it 4-2. Skorokhodov set up Denis Vikharev to make it 4-3 midway through the third, but the visitor held on.
Traktor came to Kazan knowing that victory would give it a great chance of pipping Ak Bars to third place in the Eastern Conference – but suffered from a slow start.
Jiri Sekac and Stepan Zakharchuk had the home team 2-0 up inside 12 minutes, and even though Traktor fought back to tie the game by the first intermission with goals from Nikolai Belov and Maxim Yakutsenya, there was little to upset Ak Bars on the night.
Vladimir Tkachyov and Justin Azevedo reinstated that two-goal advantage in the middle session; Kirill Koltsov kept Traktor in contention. But Fyodor Malykhin struck early in the third to end the visitor’s resistance and open an eight-point gap between the two teams.
Sibir kept its playoff hopes alive with a shoot-out win at home to Lokomotiv. Sergei Shumakov was the only player to score in the extras as young Sibir goalie Alexei Krasikov denied Petri Kontiola, Andrei Loktionov and Brandon Kozun to add to the 35 saves he made during a 2-2 tie. Sibir led twice in regulation as well, thanks to Zach Boychuk and Evgeny Artyukhin, but Loko levelled both times through Jakub Nakladal and Staffan Kronwall.
Dinamo Riga enjoyed a comfortable win over Severstal in the clash of the Western Conference outsiders. The Latvians romped to a 5-0 lead inside 32 minutes on goals from Roberts Lipsbergs, Krisjanis Redlihs, Gunars Skvorcovs, Oskars Cibulskis and a first KHL career goal for 20-year-old D-man Uvis Balinskis. Severstal got two goals back in the third from Dmitry Kagarlitsky and Maxim Trunyov, but the game was long gone.
Slovan goalie Barry Brust made 21 saves to blank Amur and help his team to a 2-0 victory in Bratislava. Second-period goals from Michal Sersen and Marek Daloga, scored barely 90 seconds apart, gave Slovan the verdict.
Kunlun made its first trip to Croatia to take on Medvescak, but the Chinese team suffered a narrow defeat in Zagreb. There were few chances in two even periods before Francis Pare grabbed the only goal of the encounter in the 41st minute. The set up a more open finale, but Drew MacIntyre held firm to make 21 saves and claim a shut-out win.