Нижний Новгород (17:00)
(SKA leads the series 3-0)
SKA is just one game away from returning to the Gagarin Cup Final after grinding out an overtime win in Yaroslavl – with Alexander Barabanov the unlikely overtime hero. Lokomotiv, hoping for improved fortune on home ice, led for much of a fiery game but – amid frayed tempers – lost out following head coach Alexei Kudashov’s ejection from the game.
Kudashov was penalized following an incident midway through the third period when a bottle flew off the Loko bench and landed on the ice where SKA’s players were heading back to the sidelines. The coach, and his colleagues, insisted it was an innocent accident; the officials disagreed and awarded a minor penalty while sending Kudashov to the locker room.
That same power play saw SKA draw level through Nikita Gusev. The forward, whose earlier error contributed to Pavel Kraskovsky’s opening goal for Loko, made amends in some style with the equalizer. Anton Belov shot from the blue line, Alexander Sudnitsin saved, but Gusev collected the rebound and stretched to slide it beyond the goalie.
Overtime followed, and SKA killed a penalty before grabbing the winner thanks to a great goal from Barabanov. The forward, who hadn’t found the net in 37 previous games, picked up the puck in center ice and surged down the right flank, powering past his opponents before arcing in front of the net and squeezing his shot through a flurry of skate and leg as Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Kadeikin jostled for position on the slot.
Barabanov’s first post-season goal settled the outcome of a fierce – sometimes perhaps too fierce – battle in game three of the Western Conference Final. The most memorable moment came midway through the game when a massed brawl broke out in front of the Lokomotiv net as the home defense took exception to some close attentions paid to goalie Alexander Sudnitsin. Staffan Kronwall was picked out as the instigator, and his clash with Ilya Kablukov was most watchable bout of the three scuffles that kicked off simultaneously. The undercard was made up of Jakub Nakladal flooring Yegor Rykov while Max Talbot and Alexander Khokhlachyov also grappled.
It was all part of a simmering evening. SKA’s starting goalie Mikko Koskinen left the game in the 19th minute with an injury and seconds after that the home team’s Kadeikin got into a minor fight with visiting D-man Belov. And after the big fight at the halfway point, there was a further skirmish when Jarno Koskiranta reacted angrily to Mikhail Pashnin leading with his knee in a hit behind the Yaroslavl net.
All the rough stuff rather distracted from a fine goal by young Pavel Kraskovsky. The 20-year-old produced a fantastic unassisted effort to open the scoring just before Koskinen’s injury, pouncing on the loose puck in center ice and leaving Dinar Khafizullin bewildered with some slick puck-handling before scoring on the backhand in a manner reminiscent of Pavel Datsyuk. SKA’s magic man is unlikely to feature again in this year’s playoffs after requiring an operation on the injury he picked up in the series against Dynamo, according to comments from club director Alexander Medvedev on R-Sport. Lokomotiv, though, may have unearthed another player capable of sprinkling a bit of sorcery on proceedings in the current series.
It wasn’t enough to win the game, though. Kudashov’s penalty proved to be a turning point – and one that will doubtless be extensively discussed in the coming days – and SKA took advantage to move 3-0 ahead in the series. With just one playoff defeat so far for the Petersburg team, it will take something very special for Lokomotiv to repeat its shock victory over CSKA in the previous round; any revival must start with victory in game four on Wednesday.