Tuesday’s repeat of last season’s Eastern Conference final ended in victory for Ak Bars. This season’s conference leader got a measure of revenge for its defeat in April with a 2-1 verdict that leaves the 2017 runner-up languishing outside the playoff places. Elsewhere, Lada snapped a 10-game losing streak thanks to Kirill Kapustin’s overtime winner against HC Sochi, Traktor edged Salavat Yulaev and Avtomobilist halted Neftekhimik in a shoot-out.
Traktor ended a four-game losing streak by beating Ak Bars on Sunday, and claimed the scalp of another Eastern Conference high-flyer in this game.
Salavat Yulaev blew a 2-0 lead, established by goals from Finnish duo Teemu Hartikainen and Joonas Kemppainen as Traktor’s revival starts to pick up pace.
Maxim Shipin claimed his first ever KHL goal to halve the deficit 21 seconds after Kemppainen’s strike, and Alexander Sharov tied it up before the second intermission.
Early in the third, Maxim Yakutsenya got the winner. A three-on-one break saw Paul Szczechura feed his experienced strike partner on the slot, and Yakutsenya made no mistake to give Traktor the lead. That was one of just three on shots on the Salavat net in the final stanza as the visitor surged forward in search of an equalizer, but Vasily Demchenko kept those efforts at bay.
Ilya Krikunov’s shoot-out winner gave Avtomobilist a win that could have been far more comfortable.
The two teams came into the game among the surprise packages in the Eastern Conference, with the visitor on a four-game winning streak that gave it a chance of claiming top spot if it could win today.
However, Avto made the brighter start, and twice held a two-goal lead in regulation. Dwight King’s first for the club got things rolling in the seventh minute, and Alexei Mikhnov added a second shortly after the first intermission. Chad Rau pulled one back, but Dmitry Megalinsky made it 3-1 early in the third as Avtomobilist seemed to be on the road to victory.
Neftekhimik hit back: Bogdan Yakimov soon reduced the arrears before Rau’s second of the night tied it up with three minutes left and took us to overtime. The extras were blank, and in the shoot-out Jakub Kovar proved invincible as the home team took the verdict.
When these old foes last met, in the Eastern Conference final, Magnitka’s comprehensive series win seemed to reinforce the balance of power in the East. But today, less than six months on, Ak Bars delivered a hint that the order established back in 2014 might be changing.
It wasn’t just the margin of victory, it was the manner of it that impressed. Ak Bars fired 42 shots on Ilya Samsonov’s net, and powered through the second period with a 24-6 advantage on the shot count. That dominance was all the more impressive considering the visitor had to kill a major penalty incurred by Stepan Zakharchuk for charging. The only surprise was that it yielded just one goal, 40 seconds before the hooter.
Vladimir Tkachyov was the scorer. Mikhail Sidorov broke into a promising position but was unable to get his shot away and instead pushed the puck out wide to his team-mate. Tkachyov then picked out an unguarded corner of Samsonov’s net to open the scoring.
Magnitka offered more offense in the third period, and drew level in the 49th minute after Jan Kovar shot from the left channel and saw the puck take a deflection into the net as Matt Ellison and Andrei Markov tussled on the slot. Parity lasted just 30 seconds, though. Andrei Popov claimed the game winner with another shot aided by deflections. Not even a gilt-edged chance for Sergei Mozyakin in the last minute could save Metallurg this time; Emil Garipov had the answers. Ak Bars remains on top in the East; Magnitka, unusually, is currently outside the playoff places.
After 10 defeats in a row, Lada finally had something to celebrate with an overtime win against Sochi. Artis Arbols’ team edged its opponent – which was in decent form in the Western Conference – thanks to Kirill Kapustin’s strike one minute into the extras. That was the 24-year-old’s first goal for the club since joining from Lokomotiv early in the season.
Earlier, Alexei Mastryukov broke his duck for the season to give Lada a 15th-minute. His goal survived a challenge from the Sochi bench, which believed there was an offside in the play. Sochi rallied in the second period, and tied the game halfway through when Simon Onerud scored on the power play. The remainder of the action was anxious for Lada: Sochi upped its game and put plenty of pressure on Alexander Lazushin’s net in the third period. But Lazushin held firm, and Kapustin delivered a long-awaited game-winner.