Two goals from forward Anton Burdasov helped Avangard to a vital victory at home to Ak Bars, ensuring the series will go to at least six games before Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s Eastern Conference Final opponent is known.
(Ak Bars leads the series 3-2)
Life without the club mascot proved unlucky for Ak Bars as Avangard powered to a home victory that kept the series alive.
It emerged that Ak Bars had mistakenly registered the costumed character as a regular fan, and not a performer. As such, he could not enter the arena with his face concealed; if the host allowed this, it could face a big fine. In the absence of its talisman, Ak Bars missed the chance to wrap up the series in five games and must wait until Sunday at the earliest to book a Conference Final showdown against Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
The opening goal came in the 13th minute, created by Avangard’s long-serving forward Alexander Perezhogin. He halted Stepan Zakharchuk’s attempt to bring the puck out of the visitor’s zone and delivered the pass for Lemtyugov to fire home the opening goal.
The first period belonged to Avangard, but after the intermission Ak Bars raised its game and began to pose a serious threat to Dominik Furch’s net. Even so, Avangard doubled its lead with a counter-attacking goal of deceptive simplicity midway through the second period. As Evgeny Medvedev and Yegor Martynov tidied up play behind their own net, an attempted line change went decisively in the home team’s favor. Martynov slung the puck in front of the benches as Burdasov was joining the game. The forward collected the pass and advanced to shoot past Emil Garipov from the right-hand circle. Ak Bars, much improved the middle stanza, found itself facing a mountain to climb.
It got even better for the home team early in the third. Beginning the session on the power play, Avangard quickly added a third goal when Medvedev found Zubov in space between the hash marks and the forward took two touches to put the puck beyond Garipov.
Ak Bars finally got on the scoreboard in response to Zubov’s goal. Exploiting a power play of its own, the visitor advanced. Vladimir Tkachyov fired the puck into the danger zone and after Alexander Svitov’s close-range shot was blocked, Jiri Sekac put away the rebound to offer his team a way back into the game.
But any hope of a revival – and potentially a series win tonight – was ended when Burdasov got his second of the game in the 51st minute. This time, Vladimir Sobotka was the architect, kick-starting the play on the Ak Bars blue line, exchanging passes with Burdasov and shooting the puck through a crowd of players in front of the net. Somehow, the disk danced through a forest of stick and skate and arrived for Burdasov to shoot into an unguarded target and put the game beyond the visitor’s reach. Ak Bars had one big chance to salvage an unlikely recovery, enjoying an extended 5-on-3 advantage after Perezhogin was ejected for boarding Zakharchuk and Lemtyugov got a minor, but the home defense closed out the game without undue alarm. The action continues on Saturday in Kazan, with Ak Bars looking to wrap up the series at the second attempt.