Ak Bars lose third game to Salavat Yulaev and are now just one defeat from elimination.

(3) Salavat Yulaev Ufa 2 OT
(2) Ak Bars Kazan 1

Salavat Yulaev lead the series 3-0
Salavat Yulaev and Ak Bars have so far produced a mirror image of last season’s series between these great rivals. Once again, one of the teams races to a 3-0 lead, again needing two overtimes, and of course there is the same colossal rivalry between these two hockey-loving republics. The games themselves do not differ greatly, and so again today the protagonists exchanged goals in regulation time and settled matters in overtime.

“The mood before the game was to just go for victory; we didn’t plan any accent-on-defense or wait-and-see tactics. Our awesome team play stopped us having any unnecessary individual ambitions, plus our goalie had a great game,” was how Alexander Radulov saw his team’s third straight triumph over Ak Bars. “The main thing was that at the crucial moments we had guys good enough to become heroes. Today Oleg Saprykin was one of them. But I’d like to pay tribute to the Kazan team, they look a useful outfit. They let us off the hook a couple of times, just as we did with them. With every game it’s getting tougher and tougher to play. But I really want to win this series and a big trophy with this Salavat Yulaev team.”

“What do you think is behind your problems in power play? No goals in six attempts…”
“Ak Bars have gotten to know our playing style really well. In any case, it’s not beyond hope – we’re still creating chances. In games like these the goalies often have the final say.”

In the Ufa ranks, Oleg Saprykin has come in for some of the harshest criticism, from fans and experts alike, but the forward’s lethal strike which sealed the game in overtime has turned him into an instant hero. “Was I aiming at the goal at that moment? I kind of looked to see where I was shooting, but right now everything’s hazy,” recalled the scorer of the golden goal. “If I said I was shooting at that particular spot, I’d be lying. If anything, I just hit it and it went in.”

“It’s been a real, hard battle, all the games have been tough,” said the hosts’ head coach, Vyacheslav Bykov. “Our team is struggling in power play – that’s mostly down to our opponents, but we need to put things right ourselves. Also there’s a significant difference between the play-offs and the championship, as you can tell by the tough nature of this series.”

“Would you say this was the key game of the series?”
“For me, the key game is the one which puts you through to the next stage.”

“The situation’s got much worse, but we still have a chance and we’ll push ourselves to the limits of our strength right until the end,” said a defiant Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, looking far from dead and buried. “We knew that it wasn’t worth taking huge risks today. But a game is a game. Why didn’t Marcel Hossa play? We decided to have a look at Dmitry Kazionov’s game.”

“The game threw us into confusion,” Kazan forward Danis Zaripov pulled his hood over his head, clearly not in the mood for a long conversation. “All three games were really even battles, but we must be second best in some part of our play, since all the games have ended like this.”

Andrei Lopata, Ufa

(4) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 3
(1) Avangard Omsk 6
Metallurg lead the series 2-1
Every hockey fan in Magnitogorsk knows down to the finest detail the history of the bitter rivalry between Metallurg and Avangard, and has also not forgotten that the last time the men from the Urals celebrated victory on their own ice against the Omsk men was back in December 2009. It seemed that all the omens pointed to the end of this losing streak, but once again it was the Omsk men who triumphed.

As for the rosters, the visitors were missing Dmitry Ryabykin, Andrei Mukhachev and Anton Kuryanov, who had accumulated 6 points (3+3) in 9 play-off games, whereas the hosts were once again without Enver Lisin and Lasse Kukkonen in their arsenal. And so grateful applause rang around the packed arena to greet Oleg Kvasha, who received a hefty blow in the face from a stick in the previous game, and also the return from injury of Tomas Rolinek, whose consistency has been sorely missed by the Magnitogorsk outfit.

Unlike the games in Omsk, this time Metallurg looked the more impressive at the start, with a lot of pace, beautifully-worked combination play in offense and good understanding among the defensemen, the impressive finishing of the KlimenkoKontiolaAaltonen line, and soon a 2-0 lead; indeed, for one and a half periods, there was plenty to warm the hearts of the spectators.

However, once confident of success, the hosts grew complacent and allowed Denis Kulyash to halve the deficit. Within a minute, the Magnitogorsk men’s two-goal cushion was restored, triggering the Avangard coaches to replace the far from confident looking Karri Ramo with Alexei Kuznetsov, who was to keep his goal intact for the rest of the game.

“Avangard played well today, and we didn’t really,” said an unhappy Gleb Klimenko. “We opened the scoring, lost our concentration, started to make mistakes, the visitors punished us, and we were like headless chickens. We believed we’d won it far too early.”

A change in personnel between the pipes often spurs the skaters on, and it happened here with the Omsk men. They pulled one goal back before the interval, while the final period turned out to be the stuff of the hosts’ worst nightmares. For nearly half the period the Magnitogorsk men stood up well to the onslaught, but in the closing 12 minutes they were overwhelmed by four goals from the visitors.

“We made a heap of mistakes in our home games, and yes, we were losing 0-2 here, but today the players showed their character and we achieved what was for us a vital victory,” said Avangard head coach Raimo Summanen. “We were in a similar situation in Nizhnekamsk, when we were trailing in the series. Now the most important thing is to get our strength back in time for the next game.”

Anton Chaika, Magnitogorsk

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