Atlant complete a third straight win over SKA to reach the Western Conference final.
(3) SKA St. Petersburg 2
(4) Atlant Moscow Region 3 ОТ
Atlant win the series 4-3
The Ice Palace staff was charging around tidying up the mess left after the arena’s final game of the season, and the technicians were already preparing the venue for Monday’s concert by Deep Purple, while in the corner raged a small but turbulent sea of blue and yellow. The traveling fans from Mytishchi did not care what time the stadium security would finally let them out – they were the happiest in the world, having witnessed their team which name speaks for itself (Atlant means ‘Atlas’ in Russian) complete the Herculean task of coming back from 1-3 down to win this series.
“I can’t even find any words to describe this game,” said Atlant goaltender Konstantin Barulin. “I have so much emotion in my soul, so much adrenalin was spilt on the ice, and we have no energy left. If the SKA guys had managed to build on their success in their first period, our victory would have been practically unthinkable.”
The Petersburg men did indeed start in very lively mood. Both Evgeny Artyukhin and Anton But had excellent chances to open the scoring, but in both duels it was the custodian of the Atlant net who came out on top. However, the hosts did manage to squeeze a one-goal lead from their early superiority, and once again it came from Maxim Rybin.
“In the early stages we departed from our plans, and were a bit sloppy at the back. My players were roaming the ice, losing track of their opponents, and getting out of position. But the hosts only managed a single goal, which left us with a chance,” Atlant head coach Milos Riha told the press conference after the game.
After their opening salvo the SKA men seemed to flag, and the visitors sensed it, so when they were handed a power play they ruthlessly took advantage, with Ilya Gorokhov on the blue line gratefully hammering the puck high into the net. Then followed the familiar game of “wait for the mistake.” The visitors were the first to slip up, handing the relentless Rybin the chance to break through down the flanks and lash a shot into the top corner of the net. There was no red light from the official behind the goal, but after extended scrutiny of the video replays the goal was awarded.
The Petersburg team’s slender lead meant nothing was guaranteed for the hosts and all was still not lost for the visitors, and with the scarcity of lively action the game began to resemble a close fight between two lumbering heavyweight boxers.
“We were in the best possible mood today. We wanted to win, but how could it be any different? We had lost two games running and we and our opponents just had to win. One mistake and some problems in power play today has barred our way to the final,” lamented SKA defenseman Sergei Gusev.
The fatal mistake occurred with five minutes of regulation time remaining, and was made by SKA goalie Jakub Stepanek, who strayed out of his goal, hoping to send the puck into the corner. Instead, the puck struck Alexander Nesterov, who had arrived to pressure the keeper, and rebounded into the net.
“I wasn’t going to say anything to Jakub,” said Vaclav Sykora. “I just said before the overtime that the game is still on and they should put that incident out of their minds.”
Lady Luck, as we know, is notoriously capricious. And after her present for Atlant she decided to even things up a little before the final siren. For some reason Ivan Nepryaev launched himself at Petr Prucha behind the Petersburg goal and earned himself a lengthy penalty. The Army Men had three minutes left for them to fulfill their mission in regulation time, but the SKA attack had become toothless and the visitors comfortably killed the penalty.
“We were really poor in power play in this series and didn’t take advantage at the most crucial moments. We didn’t score, but our opponents sure did,” said a dejected Mattias Weinhandl.
The final act in the drama began with Alexei Semenov’s dismissal. Just as it seemed the hosts would hold out, they lost a face-off and the result was a shot by Dmitry Upper. Stepanek parried, but no-one could stop Dmitry Bykov being first to the rebound, and he booked Atlant’s ticket from Saint Petersburg to Yaroslavl.
It’s fair to say we’re a very happy team," said the Mytishchi captain, Sergei Mozyakin. “We came from behind to win games in Cherepovets, and fought back from 1-3 to win this series, when few gave us a chance. And today we spent the whole evening chasing the game. It’s fair to say we’ve earned our place in the final.”
Sergei Rychikhin, Saint Petersburg