WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

(4) Atlant Moscow Region 3
(1) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 1

Atlant lead the series 3-0
The Western Conference final series edges ever closer to a climax, as Atlant's third successive victory gives them a great chance of starting their Gagarin Cup final preparations as early as Tuesday.

“Goal scored by Konstantin Barulin,” boomed the stadium announcer, and we had no reason to doubt him, but later the officials changed their minds, and so ruined many a major headline in tomorrow's papers. Instead, the goal was awarded to defenseman Ilya Gorokhov, but there is every possibility this decision could once again be overturned by the special committee.

A curiosity for hockey fans, but for the Yaroslavl men it was a goal against them which proved decisive. Midway through the second period Zbynek Irgl was sent to the penalty box, the visitors had possession, and so goaltender Alexander Vyukhin made way for a sixth skater. From the corner, Gennady Churilov’s attempted pass to Alexander Guskov was both too wayward and too strong, and the puck sailed the length of the arena and nestled in Lokomotiv’s own net.

The episode seemed to break the will of the visitors, and even though they managed a late consolation goal, it mattered little.

And yet before the game a lot of experts were tipping Lokomotiv to start wiping out those two home defeats. Former coach Vladimir Kryuchkov was still confident the Yaroslavl men would not only halve their deficit, but would overtake the Mytishchi men in the series. “4-0 is just not on,” he insisted, “I think Vůjtek was right two days ago saying that the series was only just beginning. It seems to me the team will find in itself the strength to level the series and make a fresh start in Yaroslavl.”

The strength may be there, but fortune is certainly missing. “Luck is what we’re lacking,” said Vladimír Vůjtek, as he said at the previous press conference. “For the third time I must congratulate Milos Riha on his team’s victory.”

In spite his team’s catastrophic position, Vůjtek made the effort to show a generous spirit throughout the session, and even managed a cool analysis of the game. He gave his reasons for the defeat: “In the first period we were backing off too much, and then the opposition started playing it very tidy, handing us the initiative but defending well. Konstantin Barulin had another good game. After we scored the third into our own net things got really bad.”

Milos Riha also gave due credit to his goaltender. “Barulin rescued us more than once today,” he concurred, “but I’d mention the other guys who showed great commitment and battled for the puck every time. Now we’ll try and take this great form into Game 4.”

The Atlant players, wary of tempting fate, were less inclined to speak. Oleg Petrov duly praised his teammates, but the rest of the crew held their tongues.

In contrast, the Yaroslavl men were more eager to talk. “For us now the main thing is to win the next game,” forward Alexander Kalyanin reiterated. “It doesn’t matter one bit what the score is in the series, whether or not any team has fought back to win from 0-3, so long as we have a chance. We simply must win Game 4.”

His comrades repeated a similar mantra. While they may indeed be right, of course, not a single one of them managed a smile. It was clear the Yaroslavl men have been left downcast by events, and digging themselves out of this situation will be far from simple. And the Mytishchi men, with their miracle in the series against SKA still fresh in the memory, know only too well how harshly the slightest hint of complacency can be punished.

Alexei Shevchenko, Mytishchi

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