Lokomotiv had never before tasted victory in the deciding Game 7 in a play-off series. Last season the Railwaymen were beaten by HC MVD in the Western Conference final, and the year before they went down to Ak Bars in the Gagarin Cup final. The pain was increased by the men from Yaroslavl leading 3-2 in both series before losing two successive games.
However, we should mention that on both unhappy occasions Game 7 was on the road, whereas today’s encounter was in Yaroslavl. And packed-to-the-rafters Аrena-2000 eagerly awaited the start of the game, armed with the traditional inflatable cheer sticks, and with their deafening roar the passionate local support urged their team forward. They did not have long to wait for reasons to cheer – early in the third minute the hosts opened the scoring and before the sixth minute had elapsed they had already doubled their lead.
Young Lokomotiv forward Andrei Kiryuhin, put on first line duty by Vladimír Vůjtek from Game 4, said that such an explosive start was no accident: “We were really fired up for this game, all the more so playing at home, in front of our own fans, we simply had to win. The support today was just crazy. I want to thank the fans, they really roared us on, it helped us, and I hope it will be the same in our coming games.”
In the second period the Minsk men were short-handed for 11 minutes, but an outstanding display from goaltender Andrei Mezin somehow prevented the hosts from increasing their lead. The hosts’ goalie, Dimitrij Kotschnew, also put in a solid performance, and today was the first time in this series Lokomotiv made it to the third period without allowing a single goal.
In the final twenty minutes the men from the Volga turned up the pressure and struck four more goals, while the two hundred traveling fans were given a little consolation when Jeff Platt scored during a 5-on-3 power play.
The crucial goal was the third, when Kiryuhin found the target with deadly accuracy from a tight angle and gave the Yaroslavl men a comfortable winning margin, forcing the Minsk men to open up and charge forward, and so allowing the hosts to punish them on the counter-attack.
“I think what finally broke our opponents was when Henry was sent off for the rest of the game in the second period. They were left with five defensemen who looked really exhausted. We were already leading 2-0, so all we had to do was keep it tight in defense until we’d got the victory.” said Kiryuhin.
“We wanted a different start to the game,” lamented Marek Sykora, “but we allowed two early goals. In the second period we were often short-handed, but we stayed in the game thanks to our goaltender, while in the third period nothing went right for us. You don’t want such a heavy defeat in your final game, but otherwise I’m pleased with my team’s performance throughout this series. I won’t praise out opponents, but I’m proud of my guys.”
We’ve been through a really hard series,” was Vladimír Vůjtek’s summing up, “but we were better today, controlled the puck well, and showed aggression in our opponents’ zone. I’m grateful to the fans for the way they supported the team in this tough game. Now we’ll be up against the men from Riga. Both opponents are a bit similar, and not just in the name. Riga is also a battling team, and they have several highly-skilled players and a good goaltender. I think it will be another hard series. We’ll have to make certain decisions having looked at this series. But we must admit we underestimated our opponents. In hockey you have to take the rough with the smooth: for example, SKA vs Spartak games were all very close affairs, and yet the series ends at 4-0.”
Andrei Vinogradov, special for khl.ru