It is hard to dispute the HC MVD supporters’ claim that in Balashikha Lady Luck smiled on Ak Bars to an excessive degree, but after just seven minutes in Kazan they had some compensation in the form of one of the strangest goals of the season: Ak Bars defenseman Grigory Panin was behind his own goal when his attempted pass cannoned off visiting forward Alexei Ugarov and flew into the net.

“Yes, the puck took a wicked deflection,” agreed Evgeny Fedorov. “We found ourselves in the lead, and this gives you extra strength.”

Petri Vehanen’s bewilderment stayed hidden behind his mask, but as the stadium screens showed a clip of the well-known children’s cartoon, “Shaibu! Shaibu!” (“The puck! The puck!”), the goaltender must have been shaken to the very depths of his soul.

Bad luck aside, HC MVD fans also felt the officials had been too eager to hand out penalties to their team, and on this point they also had some early satisfaction: in the first half of the opening period the visitors found themselves in powerplay for nearly six minutes, and the bizarre goal which gave them the lead came during Roman Kukumberg’s four-minute absence for dangerous play.

“Our dissatisfaction with the officials only concerned Game 2,” HC MVD sporting director Almaz Garifullin clarified. “We have no complaints at all about the refereeing in the first match, or in today’s match.”

“We tried to play our part by keeping our discipline and avoiding penalties,” added Fedorov.

Having paid their fair share in bad luck and penalties, the home side could at last set about forcing their way back into the game, and in the 14th minute they pulled level when Alexei Yemelin, with pinpoint accuracy, blasted the puck into the roof of the net.

The next two scoring chances fell to Jarkko Immonen, but both attempts to fire Ak Bars in front were foiled – the first by the unfriendly bounce of the puck, the second by the imposing bulk of Michael Garnett. Ak Bars then spent all of the second period and the first half of the third trying not just to score, but to score with elegance, sometimes seemingly in search of the perfect goal.

“We created some good chances in the second period,” agreed Zinetula Bilyaletdinov. “But we didn’t take them. What can you do?”

“At times we were lucky,” was Fedorov’s impression. “So as things seemed to be going our way, we really tried to take hold of the game.”

And so the elegant goal duly arrived, only it was scored by the guests: Maxim Velikov finishing off a superb two-man move with Alexei Tsvetkov.

The goal came ten minutes from the end of regulation time, and soon after one could say, “from the end of the game,” as Alexei Tertyshny managed to jostle and bundle the puck into Vehanen’s goal.

A little later and Alexei Morozov’s series, already poor by his standards, got even worse when he collided with the boards.

“I don’t know what’s up with him,” snapped Bilyaletdinov.

“They say it’s his shoulder” sighed Alexei’s wife, Irina.

When Stepan Zakharchuk’s late strike, whipped in with power and accuracy, halved the deficit it brought the Kazan men back to life, but a late equalizer was beyond them.

“We showed real fighting spirit,” HC MVD head coach Oleg Znarok said optimistically. “We battled to the end, and our heads never dropped.”

Djaudat Abdullin

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