EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

(3) Salavat Yulaev Ufa 1
(4) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 0

Salavat Yulaev win the series 4-3
Salavat Yulaev needed all seven games to justify their status as favorites in this Eastern Conference final, but Metallurg proved themselves the worthiest of opposition. Chances to win this deciding game for a place in the Gagarin Cup final were divided pretty evenly between the two protagonists, but the outcome was settled in the end by a strike from Vladimir Antipov.

The two sides began the big clash in hectic fashion, both making mistakes, incurring penalties, and in one spell even taking turns to shoot, and both waiting to pounce on the first sign of weakness. In the second period some sloppy play from the Ufa defense left Oleg Kvasha one on one with Erik Ersberg , but the Swede saved his comrades.

In the third period Salavat upped the tempo, and in a six-minute spell Antipov called Georgy Gelashvili into action three times, and the third shot found the net. It was a case of lightning striking twice for Kari Heikkila, as three years ago he had seen the Ufa number 35 hit a similar winning goal in the final between Salavat Yulaev and Lokomotiv.

“I’d like to thank Kari and his team for this festival of hockey we’ve given to fans of the KHL. Such games are the jewel in hockey’s crown. I’ve rarely seen my team in the mood they were in today. The guys played with such desire and passion, and I have nothing but admiration,” said the hosts’ head coach Vyacheslav Bykov, in no mood to conceal his delight. “The support from the fans was simply stunning. All this helped us toward the victory. We have just one mission before us – to win the Gagarin Cup, so we don’t have too much time to celebrate before we start getting ready for the final.”

“Was it tough choosing the goalie before this game?”
“Straight after Game 6 in Magnitogorsk it was clear that Ersberg would be in goal.”

“Has Alexander Svitov recovered fully from sickness?”
“When our players are sick, they don’t play.”

The visitors’ head coach Kari Heikkila believed the season had been a credit to his team: “I’m happy with the way my team played in this series. We’ve been through twenty full play-off games plus overtimes, and in every one the guys gave their all for victory. Of course, we had a short bench, a lot of injuries, and many of those playing were carrying injuries. I think that became our biggest problem.”

“Do you remember how three years ago, right here in Ufa, it was Antipov who hit the game-winner in the final series against your Lokomotiv team?”
“Yes, when we shook hands he reminded me about it.”

“Do you and your team owe a lot to your fitness coach?”
“Yes, that guy did a superb job. We have this system, measuring fitness every day. We had the same at Lokomotiv.”

“How do you see now your spell at Metallurg?”
“Of course, the first year is never easy. New players, new coaches, new system, everyone has to get used to each other. I thought in the play-offs we looked a lot better than in the regular championship. I’m satisfied with this season.”

“We started well as a team, and we stayed together the whole game. When it came to the crunch it was obvious that one goal would win it,” reflected Salavat captain Viktor Kozlov.

“What were the team’s nerves like?”
“Of course, there are always nerves, but it was the same for Metallurg. The game itself was very tense. We had really good opponents, and in a couple of games we’ve had our fingers burned. The main thing was to shut them out.”

“When the visitors pulled their goalie were you not ordered to go for a second goal?”
“No, our orders were to hold on, and thanks especially to Alexander Radulov we managed it.”

“What was the main factor behind Salavat’s victory in the series?”
“Our character. We didn’t fold after two straight defeats. It was hard for us to keep our spirits up; the psychological advantage had passed to our opponents.”

Salavat defenseman Vitaly Proshkin admitted that it was his family which spurred him on to win: “I’m still not even thinking about Atlant, our future opponents. Our coaches will show us and tell us everything we need to do, how to play and against whom. I hope we’ll we really well-prepared. Today we were in the right mood to win, and we achieved it. You can’t be tired after games like that. When I was heading off to the game, my whole family told me not to come back without a victory, so I tried, and I’m going home as a winner.”

Metallurg forward Stanislav Chistov paid tribute to the hosts’ goaltender: “Both sides had about the same amount of chances. I don’t think Salavat outplayed us today, but their goalie was outstanding. For the Ufa guys, Ersberg was in a class of his own.”

“How do you feel now?”
“Devastated. Although we have nothing to be ashamed of. We tried to win and we gave our all, maybe even a bit more. But I still think we can be proud of our season.”

“Not many believed in Magnitka before the start of this series…”
“We have to thank our coach, he instilled confidence in us. We believed we could conquer Salavat, and we came very close to achieving it.”

“What else could you have done to win today’s game?”
“I think we could’ve played faster. The Ufa defensemen are not the quickest, but sadly, we didn’t get the chance to outpace them.”

“When the result is 1-0 it means you have two absolutely equal opponents,” said one of the best players of this season’s play-offs, Sergei Fedorov. “If you don’t score in games like this, then you can hardly expect to win. The hosts managed to score, but we also had our chances. At the start it was a very tense, closed game, then passion took over and both teams started to play to their own style.”

“A good season for Magnitka?”
“I can’t say, it’s not for me to judge, but I saw how the guys battled in this series, how they gave their all. It is hard to find fault with guys like that.”

“Is it the end of your career?”
“We’ll see. I’ll make that decision in the near future.”

Andrei Lopata, Ufa

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