An unbelievably close and hard-fought series between Avangard and Neftekhimik – the only Eastern Conference series to go the full distance – finished with an explosion of goalscoring. The first ten goals in this series took three whole games and two overtimes, or over 163 minutes of playing time, whereas today they combined to hit ten in only 58 minutes.
Avangard forward Anton Kuryanov gave his view of the goalfest: “Neftekhimik is a very tricky team. If you watch all the games, we were always allowing the first goal and they make it really hard to come back. This time, at last, we opened the scoring and saw that when Neftekhimik try to get back into a game it’s a completely different team than when they have the lead. Well, we just grew stronger and all the guys found the right spirit.”
Already by the end of the first period the two protagonists had equaled the scoring record for the series (the teams produced five goals in three of the previous games) and it was also the only period today in which the visitors managed to compete with the hosts. After the break Avangard surged ahead and never gave their opponents the slightest chance to fight their way back. “When the score became 4-2 we made no mistakes, we didn’t start charging recklessly forward,” Kuryanov continued, “and I think the fifth goal clinched it. Thank you to all the fans who made the journey to Nizhnekamsk, and a big hello to all those who wrote us off during the third period of Game 6. We’ve had a few bloody noses in this series, and I think we’ve learned our lessons from them. Now things will get really interesting.”
Anton’s attacking partner Alexei Kaluzhny was in full agreement, confident that the trials his team has endured can only serve them well in the future: “In the first two games not much went right for us in offense, we hardly created any chances. Opponents as difficult and tenacious as Neftekhimik really get themselves ready for the game. We put together 18 straight victories in the regular season, but everything has a downside. We lost the knack of bouncing back in the next game after a defeat. But now, it seems to me we are ready for any team, even one with the tightest defense. We hope that these seven games have only helped us.”
Avangard head coach Raimo Summanen gave his summary of the series: “We have the stronger roster, or a longer bench, so to speak, and that played a decisive role. Several of our players had a chance to rest, for instance Bondarev, Belov, and Ryabykin. Otherwise the games were all very even. I also think that we were lucky in Game 6 in Nizhnekamsk. In Game 6 and Game 7 the team was more united, and I felt as a coach that I could give the players some freedom. We set them loose.”
For the Nizhnekamsk men it was time to reflect not just on the series, but the entire season: “We didn’t really lose today,” said Neftekhimik head coach Vladimir Krikunov, “we lost it the day before yesterday, during Game 6. That had the biggest effect on today’s result, even though we kept competing. I think we made a lot of mistakes in our selections, which is also why we finished eighth in the regular championship. We had to fix these mistakes over the course of the season, and assemble at least a skeleton of a roster. We didn’t get that done until the February break. Before then we had a lot of players who didn’t fit in.”
And so Avangard prepare to face Metallurg Magnitogorsk, while Neftekhimik’s players go from being participants in the play-offs to mere observers. Defenseman Yakov Rylov shared his thoughts on the coming battles of the giants in the Gagarin Cup: “None of the teams which got through will have it easy. But I think the teams from the East are more serious opponents, although those in the West are no mugs either. I think Avangard will win their series against Metallurg, because they had such a great Game 6 against us. That game gave Avangard real confidence.”
Stanislav Mukhin, special for khl.ru