HC MVD are just a step away from lifting the Gagarin Cup after their 3-2 home victory over Ak Bars.
“Do you know what we decided?” smiled Ak Bars coach Valery Belov before the match. “We decided we should completely forget about the last four games.”
“You decided what?” asked a puzzled journalist.
“That we need to start afresh, with a clean slate,” he explained. “The score is 0:0 and we need two victories to take the series. And we must win.”
“And did the guys take all this in?” he was asked.
“That remains to be seen,” the coach sagged a little. “All we can do is tell them, and no-one can know what effect it will have on their minds.”
The two sides’ preparations for Game 5 differed greatly. The Ak Bars players were not given a day off after the two defeats on their own ice, but the Militia men chose to take a break from hockey. When this news was released, the press reacted with disbelief and flocked to HC MVD coach Harijs Vitolins for confirmation.
“Oh yes, we gave the guys a day off so they could have a good sleep. What of it?” he shrugged.
“But it’s the final!”
“And the guys had just played two very tough matches. They needed a break, to unwind.”
Possibly, it is the more relaxed performances by HC MVD which gets them the results they need.
“We stayed very calm after the first two games,” admitted the hero of Game 5, Roman Derlyuk. “Not once did we think it was all over. And anyway, what is the point of tearing your hair out about a single game when you have the whole series still ahead of you?”
Derlyuk landed the man of the match award, but had the coveted prize been given to Michael Garnett, then no one would have been in the least surprised. At times, Garnett seemed to be working miracles. In the third period he found himself lying on his stomach but still somehow managed to beat away Alexei Badyukov’s shot with his skate.
“I just chose the right position,” the goaltender modestly explained. “And that’s why they couldn’t score. But if I’d gotten it wrong, I wouldn’t have been able to react in time.”
Garnett spoke some more about his team, saying every single one of them battles to the last.
The ranks are getting thinner and thinner at HC MVD. On Friday evening Ruslan Zaynullin became the latest to pick up a serious injury, and sadly he can do no more to help his team in these finals.
“But it would be stupid to deny that our opponents also have a lot of problems with injuries,” said HC MVD attacker Gennady Stolyarov. “Then again, at this stage other factors are more important than strength in depth: namely desire, the will to win.”
“That was a terrible goal to concede a few seconds before the end of the second period. How did you lift yourselves, and not go to pieces?”
“The coaches pulled us together. They didn’t shout, didn’t blame anyone, they just explained that nothing disastrous had happened - the Kazan guys had pulled level, that’s all. Then we came alive again.”
There was no need to approach the Ak Bars players after this game, the looks on the faces of Alexei Morozov and Danis Zaripov, forced to watch on helpless from the sidelines, said it all. Both faces were eerily pale.
“I have no reason to reproach any of my team,” said head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov afterwards.
And he is right. HC MVD is simply the stronger team right now.