Lev’s last-gasp salvation. Gagarin Cup Final, Game 6

29 April 2014, 00:59

(3) Lev 5
(1) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 4 (OT)
Series tied at 3-3

Lev defied the odds to take this year’s Gagarin Cup final to a seventh game thanks to a late equalizer from Mikko Maenpaa and a deflected overtime goal from Nathan Oystrick.

The home team knew that only victory would do as it sought to claw back a 2-3 series deficit in front of its fans in Prague, but trailed three times on the night before recovering to win it.

There was little more than two minutes left to play when Maenpaa tied up the scores at 4-4 and forced overtime. Magnitka ran into trouble on the boards and Sergei Mozyakin – whose 1+1 on the night took his team so close to lifting the cup – gifted the puck to the Finnish defenseman. Maenpaa needed no second invitation, firing a wrist shot past Vasily Koshechkin to bring Lev’s hopes back to life.

Then, in the extras, Patrik Zackrisson led a counter attack on Koshechkin’s net and had the goalie sprawling to scrape the puck off his crease. But the play returned with interest and Oystrick – who had earlier hit the post as his team looked to force overtime – fired the puck along the goal-line and saw it bounce in off the back of the goalie’s legs to give Lev a vital victory.

Lev’s win means that the Gagarin Cup final has gone to a final game decider in four seasons out of six, while Magnitogorsk head coach Mike Keenan is set to add a KHL Game Seven to his two Stanley Cup final deciders.

For Metallurg, though, it was a cruel end to a game that seemed poised to bring the team glory. It was particularly hard to bear for Francis Pare, whose goal late in the second period seemed set to hand Metallurg the game and the series. Lev had barely killed a penalty when a quick counter saw Mozyakin rushing down the flank. Pare’s run went untracked in the center, and Mozyakin’s pass was perfectly weighted for his team-mate to snaffle the 4-3 goal.

Earlier hostilities were opened by the main men of the series – Mozyakin and Azevedo. The Magnitogorsk man opened the scoring in the 10th minute, outpacing Maenpaa down the left flank before beating Petri Vehanen from close in. But when Mozyakin was sin-binned, Justin Azevedo maintained his record of scoring in every game of this series with a slap shot to convert Lev’s first power play of the game. A second penalty on Magnitka enabled Lev to go to the first intermission 2-1 up; Ondrej Nemec shaped to shoot from the blue line, but deceived Vasily Koshechkin with a pass for Martin Sevc who fired past the wrong-footed goalie.

The second session began in similar vein, with the teams trading goals. Mikhail Yunkov tied it up in the 23rd minute, converting Oskar Osala’s pass from behind the goal before Chris Lee surprised Vehanen with a one timer from the edge of the circle that flew over the goalie’s shoulder and into the top corner.

Lev wasn’t finished though, even if its defense betrayed unfamiliar signs of frailty: a rare goal from Ryan O’Byrne, taking his time and picking his spot from the deep slot, tied the game at 3-3, but the high tempo of the game was beginning to take its toll on the home side. As Magnitka applied the pressure, Danis Zaripov saw a great chance denied by a combination of Vehanen’s pads and the outside of the post before Pare’s marker set up that nerve-jangling final session and Lev’s eventual escape.

The final act of a compelling series will take place in Magnitogorsk on Wednesday, at 5 pm Moscow time. Will Mike Keenan add a Gagarin Cup to his Stanley Cup success, or can Lev become the first team to take the KHL’s top prize out of Russia?