Alexander Perezhogin was the name on everyone’s lips after he grabbed his third game-winning goal of the play-off final series to put Avangard Omsk within reach of lifting the Gagarin Cup. But for Dynamo head coach Oleg Znarok, the in-form forward is more of a headache than a hero.
“What can we do about it?” he mused rhetorically at the post-game press conference. “I can’t really explain it right now. We’re not ready to answer that question.”
Znarok’s opposite number, Raimo Summanen, was not about to give away any clues either, but praised his man for growing into the task of a top play-off striker. “I remember a year ago I didn’t think he was ready to play these tough games, but now I see he’s improving more and more, getting better game after game. Also this year he’s been healthy, but last year he was hurt.”
Summanen refused to recognize that a 3-1 series lead might resemble a decisive advantage for Avangard, stressing once more that the sides are evenly matched. “Dynamo pushed us hard to change our game. They tried to dictate the game and there were many time when we had it hard tonight. The goalie and defense played well. Even in overtime they pushed us for five minutes and we couldn’t get anything going, almost until we got the goal. But that’s overtime - it often happens like that. But I need to repeat that these teams are very close to each other and I believe it will be the same in the next as well.”
Znarok, for his part, is not about to panic. “It’s difficult to know what to say after a game like that. We created chances but couldn’t take them. We’ll keep preparing calmly for the next game.”
Asked whether the team was struggling to cope with the physical intensity of the grand final, he added: “We’re trying to play harder, but we’re a team built on pace.”
The teams meet again in Omsk on Saturday (2pm Moscow time), with Znarok aware that he must find an answer to the Perezhogin peril if he is to avoid a second final series defeat in three years.