The last time these two fierce rivals met in a play-off was at this stage two years ago. Then it was the Ufa men who were victorious and went on to become champions.

In the opening game of this year’s contest the two teams produced completely different hockey. Salavat Yulaev kept to their tradition of trying to storm the opposition goal, but it did not come off. Ak Bars played it tough from the start, time after time slamming the Ufa men into the boards, and after softening up the hosts for ten minutes the guests scored two quick goals.

“We didn’t start the way we would have wanted,” lamented Vyacheslav Bykov after the match. “We had the upper hand, but then conceded. It was obvious the whole team did not do enough.”

“What can you say about Maxim Kondratyev’s game?”
“He slipped up, sure, but I can’t say he played especially badly.”

“What was the key moment of the match?”
“I don’t think there was a key moment. We simply wasted our chances.”

“Why didn’t you call a time out toward the end?”
“The opposition’s five skaters had been on the ice for long enough. We needed to win the face-off, but we couldn’t.”

Then we had the arrival of well-known Salavat fan and frontman of the band DDT Yury Shevchuk, who grew up in the Bashkirian capital. The guests were unable to upset the famous guest further, and by the middle of the second period the hosts fought back to 2:2.

“It was a well-fought match,” Ak Bars coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, brief as always, said at the post-match press conference. “My guys gave a massive performance and got us the result we needed.”

Having surrendered their two goal advantage the Kazan men swiftly hit back with a short-handed goal from Dmitry Kazionov, although some blame will go to Ufa goaltender Alexander Yeremenko for conceding into his near corner.

“We won by being disciplined. Every mission set by the coach we carried out ruthlessly,” was Nikita Alexeyev’s reason for his team’s victory. “Although I won’t deny that we were lucky in some places.”

“About your goal: did you not think of passing?”
“Yes, out on the far flank Alexei Morozov did great to find space, but I saw the defenseman and the goalie had noticed him, and so I had no choice but to strike at the empty corner.”

“Does the Ufa guys’ defense look tired?”
“We are all tired now. Third round of the play-offs, many were playing in the Olympics, and the two teams are evenly matched.”

“What kind of game will we see tomorrow?”
“A tough one. We will continue playing our own game, and Salavat need a win.”

“Ak Bars are good when playing away in play-offs…”
“There is more pressure at home to do well in front of your fans and family, whereas on your travels you only think about your game.”

Just 18 seconds before the final siren Norwegian Patrick Thoresen attacked visitors’ leader Alexei Morozov through the head. The captain of the Kazan club and the Russian national team has concussion and maybe worse, with a precise diagnosis expected later. As for Thoresen, he will miss at least one match.

“We made a lot of mistakes, and our opponents capitalized on them.” was the verdict of Ufa captain Vitaly Proshkin. “Almost all the goals we conceded was when our defense was on the attack. Only the fourth goal was conceded while we had our proper shape.

“Which was the key moment of the match?”
“When the score was 2-3 and then we conceded one more. It was terrible when we could have equalized with a minute left, but the puck just went along the goal line.”

“It seemed Ak Bars played better in powerplays…”
“The Kazan guys are the masters at playing with the extra man. We talked a lot before the match about how to get less penalties, but to be honest there is no one better than our opponents at making the man advantage count.”

“What do you have to say about Thoresen’s hit on Morozov.”
“I didn’t see it because I was following the puck.”

“What will be the decisive factor in this series?”
“Defense. And not only in this series, but right to end of the play-offs.”

Andrei Lopata

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