Torpedo Crushes Lada for 2-0 Lead

YAROSLAVL, Central Russia -- Torpedo Yaroslavl thumped Lada Tolyatti 6-2 in front of a pumped-up capacity crowd to take a surprising 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Russian Hockey League championship series.

A fiercely determined and extremely disciplined Torpedo team took a two-goal lead in the first period Sunday on goals from Alexei Amelin, who came in from the point to capitalize on a goalmouth scramble, and Vitaly Litvinenko, who snuck a nice wraparound backhand effort past Lada goalie Sergei Nikolayev.

Lada showed some fight in the second period, cutting the lead in half on a two-man power play. But for a team that was already one down in the series, Lada was strangely apathetic and reaped the rewards of its lack of effort when Torpedo's Alexei Trasenkh scored 11 seconds from the end of the second period, putting a backhand into the top corner of the net after Lada had failed to clear the puck out of its own end.

With the Yaroslavl fans already partying, Lada fell apart in the final period. At 9:56 Ilya Gorokhov beat goalie Nikolayev with an off-speed shot from the top of the right face-off circle to make it 4-1.

Torpedo got a swift wake-up call when Lada closed it to 4-2 just 12 seconds after Gorokhov's goal but it responded a minute and a half later when Andrei Skabelka beat Nikolayev through the legs with a backhand shot to make it 5-2.

To complete a frustrating day for Tolyatti coach Gennady Tsygurov and his team, with less than a minute left in the game Samylin intercepted a butchered cross-ice pass from Lada defenseman Yevgeny Chechin and beat Nikolayev with a beautiful fake.

Sunday's comprehensive win -- the first time in this year's playoffs that Lada has conceded more then four goals -- has turned the title race on its head. The Tolyatti team, which finished the regular season eight points clear at the top of the standings, went into the finals as big favorites.

Lada had crushed Torpedo 5-0 in Tolyatti in the teams' most recent regular season meeting, but since that game the Yaroslavl team has played excellent hockey.

Coach Pyotr Vorobyov has worked hard to instil tremendous discipline in his team and the Torpedo side has responded, playing extremely focused hockey.

Sunday's blowout was especially stunning in the wake of the tight opening match Saturday. That contest, won 2-1 by Torpedo, seemed to promise an exciting, down-to-the-wire series.

But unless Lada can crack the Yaroslavl wall -- which has given up only one goal per game in the playoffs -- when the series resumes Wednesday in Tolyatti, and neutralize Torpedo's premier forward line of Aleksey Gorshkov, Skabelka and Nezhivy, the city of Yaroslavl will soon be celebrating its first ice hockey title.