The main question tormenting the Kazan men before this game was whether Ak Bars can keep playing to their chosen tactics, accented on defense, which have brought the Gagarin Cup holders success in all six away matches in these play-offs.
“It is much more difficult to sit back and defend in home matches,” Vyacheslav Rakhin, defenseman during the 90s, expressed his doubts. “You have the supporters urging you forward, plus those in charge of the club, and indeed the republic.”
From the start Ak Bars more or less handed the initiative to the visitors. With less than a minute gone the Ufa men had Petri Vehanen in trouble with a dangerous shot, and if they had reacted a little more quickly they could have opened the scoring.
Luck was smiling frequently on the hosts, such as when the puck was heading into an empty net but Stepan Zakharchuk saved with his leg, or when Ilya Gorokhov just failed to stop the puck and direct it into Vehanen’s undefended corner. But one cannot rely on fortune forever, and in the 15th minute she at last smiled on the guests, and while Vehanen reacted in time for Viktor Kozlov’s shot he was unable to control the puck. The goal was nearly identical to the one Hannes Hyvonen scored in Ufa.
Having found themselves in the lead for the first time in the series, Salavat Yulaev were in no mood to change their attacking style, and from the second period we saw the most open, attacking hockey from both sides. Twice Vitaly Kolesnik excelled himself, dealing with a serious threat following shots from Dmitry Obukhov and especially Roman Kukumberg. But, not long after, Vehanen slipped up. In the 27th minute Kozlov struck the same shot from almost the very same spot as in the first period, but this time Petri could not even get close to it.
The very first attack from the Kazan in the third period was successful, as Alexei Yemelin reduced the deficit a mere two seconds after the visitors returned to full strength. The goal was the signal for waves of attacks on Kolesnik’s goal, and Salavat Yulaev were defending short-handed after fouls by Igor Grigorenko, then Dmitry Kalinin (twice) and Miroslav Blatak.
“I had the distinct impression that we spent the whole of the third period playing four against five,” said an indignant Vyacheslav Bykov.
Kolesnik was becoming a kind of wall, fighting Kozlov for the title of man of the match, but with 78 seconds remaining and Blatak back in play, even he was powerless to stop Ilya Nikulin equalizing from close range.
“All is not lost.” said Bykov, laconically.