In a tight, tense battle, SKA displayed admirable commitment to defeat Western Conference leaders Jokerit Helsinki 3:1 at the Ice Palace in the 2021/2022 KHL regular season.
SKA immediately took the initiative.
Under severe pressure following the opening faceoff draw, Jokerit did indeed contrive to take three penalties during the first period, as the Finns struggled to deal with our pressing.
Jokerit - who boast the best penalty kill in the KHL - calmly managed to kill those six minutes thanks to a series of solid stops from goaltender Janne Juvonen. Nevertheless, SKA took a deserved lead at equal strength in the seventh minute of play.
Unmarked between the circles, Anton Burdasov ruthlessly went top-shelf on Juvonen after receiving a pinpoint pass from Daniil Pylenkov.
At the other end, Lars Johansson was barely called into action during the frame, only having to make four saves while Juvonen stopped 11 shots for Jokerit.
Jokerit improved in the second period, though, and tallied their equaliser in the 27th minute.
Initially, Johansson thought that he had control of the puck after saving a hopeful effort from distance, but it escaped his grasp and Julius Junttila managed to tap it in.
However, SKA conjured up the perfect response.
A little over 60 seconds later, the hosts moved ahead again, as Danila Moiseev bundled the loose puck over the line after Juvonen had failed to freeze it under pressure.
The remainder of the stanza saw Jokerit boss proceedings and effectively protect possession deep inside our zone. Just to make matters worse, SKA took three penalties in the period, fouls which consequently allowed Jokerit to run the play and test Johansson on a regular basis. Our goaltender pulled off 16 saves during the second period alone.
The crossbar did also come to SKA's rescue once.
Fired-up Jokerit went on to take full charge of proceedings in the third period.
Requiring a second equalising goal, the hungry Finns applied overwhelming pressure on the home team, shooting from any angle possible and refusing to allow SKA to control the puck. Nicklas Jensen, Veli-Matti Savinainen and David Sklenicka were particularly dangerous, coming agonisingly close for Jokerit on a number of occasions.
A Finnish goal seemed imminent. But, with our players bravely blocking strong shots and Johansson in superb form, SKA stood tall to the challenge and practically secured the victory in the 56th minute as Andrei Kuzmenko sent a snappy wrister under Juvonen’s glove when speeding to the crease on the counter-attack.
Despite Junttila having taken a late, somewhat untimely hooking penalty for Jokerit, the Helsinki-based outfit did pull Juvonen for the extra skater and pressed SKA, but, to our relief, the composed Johansson was on his game to keep them at bay.
SKA will now prepare to face Avtomobilist in Yekaterinburg on Monday. Puck-drop is scheduled for 17:00 Moscow time.
SKA - Jokerit - 3:1 (1:0, 1:1, 1:0)
1:0 Burdasov (Pylenkov, Vorobyov), 06.31
1:1 Junttila (Leskinen), 26.11
2:1 Moiseev (Kuzmenko, Vorobyov), 27.19
3:1 Kuzmenko, 55.27
Goalkeepers: Johansson - Juvonen
Shots on target: 23 - 33
Faceoffs: 21 - 35
Hits: 20 - 4
Blocked shots: 14 - 12
Penalty minutes: 8 - 8
Referees: Morozov, Oskirko
03.12.2021. Ice Palace, Saint Petersburg.