EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
(4) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2
(3) Salavat Yulaev Ufa 4
Salavat lead the series 3-1
Magnitogorsk deployed the same lineup as in Game 3, keeping faith with the old saying that you should never change a winning team, whereas the Ufa men welcomed Jakub Klepis back from injury.
The scenario most expected was one where Vyacheslav Bykov’s men would go straight on the attack, but that the hosts would withstand the early pressure, and at first it seemed the Steelworkers’ defense would hold out, but midway through the opening period Patrick Thoresen put the visitors in the lead.
The goal caused Magnitka to surge forward, and they forced a number of errors out of the visitors’ defense. The pressure soon told and Tomas Rolinek finished off an intricate move with an accurate strike to put the home team level, but within a minute Miroslav Blatak’s shot from the blue line had put Salavat Yulaev back in front.
The protagonists exchanged goals once more in the second period: Stanislav Chistov’s equalizer was cancelled out just two minutes later with a beautiful strike from Ufa’s Vyacheslav Kozlov, again from distance.
“We won’t give up,” said assistant Metallurg coach Andrei Sokolov during the second interval. “In the third period we need to go out there and get into the offensive zone more often, need to shoot more, need to get more physical. Salavat Yulaev are serious opponents and you shouldn’t usually play wide open hockey against them of all teams, but now we have no choice – we have to go on the attack.”
The promise of a wave of attacks from Metallurg gradually faded; Erik Ersberg faced only 8 shots in the third period, all of them timid at best, and a stirring final onslaught never materialized: even when the hosts gambled all and pulled the goalie, they still couldn’t manage to create any danger in the opposition zone. They did manage, however, to give away the puck, allowing Alexander Svitov to direct it into the empty net.
“We had to play it very tight in defense, and tough where we needed to. The guys got everything right today,” Salavat Yulaev assistant coach Igor Zakharkin praised his players, “Metallurg is a crafty team, and you have to stay on your guard all game. The main thing was to be patient and wait for your chance; today we managed that, although it will be far from easy back in Ufa.”
Vyacheslav Bykov, once again appearing at the press conference in sportswear, was satisfied not only with his team but also with the quality of the hockey: “A really difficult game, as were the previous ones. Very pleasant to watch. A game between two teams of gifted guys with great technique, and their commitment is very impressive. I’ll say it again, we’re seeing hockey of the highest quality and it’s a pleasure to watch.”
When faced with questions about coaching Russia, Bykov became very guarded: “The most important thing now is tomorrow, our rest and recuperation day. And the next game against Magnitka. I have enough time to devote to the national team, but for me the club is more important. The coaching methods are well structured, and it’s not the first year we’ve juggled both roles. There’s enough time for everything.”
Satisfied was certainly not a description one could apply to Kari Heikkila. “The first period was fine, but in the second some problems appeared,” said the Magnitogorsk boss dryly. “Of course, it was a good battle, but sadly the result went against us. As for the great play from our fourth line, it’s no surprise to me. Pavel Zdunov is a very clever player, he makes few mistakes and he reads the game really well. It’s great to have Tomas Rolinek back after injury. All four of our lines should play just as well as the fourth if we want to win.”
Anton Chaika, Magnitogorsk