EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
(4) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 5
(3) Salavat Yulaev Ufa 3
Series tied 3-3
Kari Heikkila’s coaching staff rang the changes throughout their team’s defensive lines: in the fourth pairing Mikhail Lyubushin took his place alongside Bogdan Potekhin while Vladimir Malenkikh was left on the sidelines, and the visitors were without the services of Oleg Tverdovsky and Alexander Svitov. The latter, according to Vyacheslav Bykov, was taken ill on the day of the game at the hotel.
Their absence, however, did not stop Salavat Yulaev launching themselves headlong into the fray from the very outset, and opened the scoring before many of the unsuspecting spectators had even taken their seats: 21 seconds was all it took the Ufa first line to find the target, specifically Igor Grigorenko, who left Sergei Fedorov’s line helpless and got the better of Georgy Gelashvili from close range.
But today Magnitka also had the unbelievable support from their home fans driving them forward, and by the 13th minute Erik Ersberg had allowed two goals, both of them down to fine individual skill from the Magnitogorsk men: first a shot from the blue line by Juhamatti Aaltonen, then the master himself, Fedorov, sent a deadly pinpoint shot over Ersberg’s shoulder and in under the crossbar.
Once again, like in the previous game, a demoralized Ersberg made way for Vitaly Kolesnik. The change put fresh heart into the Ufa men and they swiftly leveled, the puck finding its way into the net via a series of deflections, with the decisive touch being credited to Grigorenko, giving the forward a double.
Not to be outdone by Grigorenko’s brace, Gleb Klimenko replied in kind. First with a strike in the 27th minute, capitalizing on Andrei Kuteikin’s dismissal, and then in the 48th, when Alexei Kaigorodov won a face-off in the neutral zone, Klimenko sailed past three Salavat Yulaev players and his shot on the move was too good for Kolesnik.
“Today we had a real battle on the ice, between two strong teams. Our preparations for this game were deadly serious,” Sergei Fedorov was restrained in his summary, “and we’ll devote just as much attention to getting ready for the next game.”
With 7 minutes remaining until the final siren the visitors reduced the deficit to a minimum through Sergei Zinovyev and then, as one would expect, they launched a desperate final assault on Fortress Gelashvili. “It got a bit worrying when the Ufa guys scored their third,” reflected a smiling Gleb Klimenko back in the changing room. “They put us under great pressure after that, but we held out.”
It is a credit to the Magnitogorsk men’s teamwork that they did not give Vyacheslav Bykov a single chance to call a time out, forcing him to pull the goalie with play in progress. Soon after, the teams were even playing 6-on-6 as Gelashvili spotted the referee’s hand raised and hurried to the bench.
Stanislav Chistov hit the crossbar of the empty net, Fedorov moved in for the kill, but immediately a swarm of Ufa men hurled themselves to the defense of the thin red line. Then the puck appeared on the goaltender’s crease, and Tomas Rolinek was first to react.
As soon as the referee’s whistle proclaimed a goal, Alexander Radulov allowed his frustration to get the better of him, and left the ice with a 10+20 penalty, leaving Metallurg to play out the remaining 19 seconds before celebrating a famous victory. A victory against all odds.
At the post-game press conference, Vyacheslav Bykov was more tight-lipped than ever: “I congratulate Metallurg on their victory. But I’d like to mention that my guys all tried today. There was a lot of emotion and energy spent. Today wasn’t our day.”
In contrast, Kari Heikkila was happy to spread the compliments around: “I liked the support we got from our fans. Yes, we weren’t at our best at the start of the first period, allowing a goal straight away, but in the second period we showed some great hockey, and in the third we played better than we did in the previous game in Ufa. In particular it’s worth mentioning Gelashvili, who instilled confidence in our skaters with his solid display.”
Anton Chaika, Magnitogorsk