WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
(1) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 3 OT
(4) Atlant Moscow Region 2
Atlant lead the series – 3:2
This time no-one in Yaroslavl had the slightest intention of leaving several minutes before the end, and Lokomotiv did not tremble when trailing by two goals, but surged forward. Of course, they had no other option, as any further failure means the end of their season. “We’re on a precipice,” said Alexander Vyukhin, “and that’s the mood we’re taking onto the ice in every game. Today we moved a little bit back from the edge.”
“Is it not hard being under that kind of strain for so many games in a row?
“You think we’re only under that kind of strain in this series with Atlant? No, in the play-offs you’re permanently under such strain.”
The Lokomotiv goaltender, who had given a near-flawless performance, avoided talking about the game: “You saw it all yourself. As for the next game, we’ll be wearing white.”
At the press conference the coaches were clearly taking care to keep their emotions and frayed nerves in check. In Yaroslavl there has always been fewer questions aimed at Milos Riha, and this time he just smiled, hardly saying a word. “I don’t think the referee should have sent our player off in the last few minutes of regulation time,” he conceded. “We’ve had fouls like that by the dozen from players of both teams, especially in the final minutes.”
“But we were short-handed in overtime,” parried Vladimír Vůjtek.
Riha brushed aside suggestions that his team had become complacent with the 2-0 lead: “We had no complacency at all; we kept playing our own game. But in the end it wasn’t enough, and if we hadn’t lost a player with that penalty, we certainly would have survived.”
The Atlant players were not in the mood to analyze the game: “It seems to me we were not beaten today, but in the previous game in Mytishchi,” Oleg Petrov sighed. “We lost something in our play back then and now we can’t get it back. Not that we played badly, but here our opponents were just stronger.”
Vůjtek has been complaining about his team's reluctance to score first, and also its weakness in power play. “There’s something not right with us when we have the numerical advantage, but I wouldn’t say anyone failed today. I wouldn’t blame any of the guys, not even when we were losing 0-2. Everyone was trying.”
When the game went into added time it at first seemed we could have overtimes all through the night. The visitors were even too cautious to launch a full-scale assault when they had the extra man, knowing that a single counter-attack could prove fatal. But they could still do nothing to stop Ivan Tkachenko’s breakaway.
It was the visitors’ second mistake. They made the first with just five seconds of regulation time remaining, when a short-handed Atlant were dealing with Lokomotiv’s desperate pressure so assuredly there seemed no doubt they would kill off the penalty and the series. Indeed, 20 seconds before the final siren the puck was in the hosts’ zone and the Mytischi men had possession.
“Do you not get worried when you leave the goal?” the press asked Vyukhin, who had been sacrificed for a sixth skater for those final few seconds.
“No. Are you on about that goal in Game 3? Yes, you get those sometimes,” smiled the goalkeeper.
While the Lokomotiv players were celebrating the golden goal by leaping en masse onto Tkachenko, who miraculously emerged unscathed, their opponents headed straight for the changing rooms. Then Jaroslav Obsut remembered that it would be a good idea to salute the supporters, and returned to the ice.
In this series, even a single voice supporting your team could make all the difference.
Alexei Shevchenko, Yaroslavl