From the very first minute of this game the visitors, in the near hopeless position of trailing 3:0 in the series, launched themselves into attack, and by the halfway mark of the first period Ak Bars goaltender Petri Vehanen’s face was dripping with sweat while his opposite number, Alexander Yeremenko, had still not even touched the puck.

When the Ufa keeper was finally called upon to make a save it was from Nikita Alexeyev, whose goal sealed the overtime triumph in Game 3, bursting down the left flank. It was symptomatic of Salavat’s recent problems – the last four goals they have conceded have all been from moves down the left side, and all from passes by Hannes Hyvonen.

Alexeyev’s attempt seemed to bring the home team to life, and in the 14th minute they had an excellent chance to open the scoring. Jarkko Immonen shot from five meters but Yeremenko was well positioned and made the save. Three minutes later it was the Ufa men’s turn to threaten from the same distance, but the goaltender was equal to Igor Grigorenko’s effort.

The next scoring chance fell to Salavat Yulaev in the last second of the period. Grigory Panin’s mistake on the blue line left Patrick Thoresen one on one with Vehanen, but on this occasion the Finn proved stronger than the Norwegian.

There then followed a succession of minor mishaps for the hosts in the spell leading up to the first goal. Andrei Mukhachev fell over, Dmitry Kazionov broke his stick, and then their troubles turned from minor to major – Alexander Radulov opened the scoring. If that was not enough, a mere two minutes later Petr Schastlivy doubled the advantage.

For a long time it seemed the scoreline suited not just the guests, but also - for some reason - the hosts. But at last, toward the end of the second period, the visitors found themselves short-handed twice in quick succession, and Hyvonen pulled a goal back a little under two minutes before the break.

And then, just one second before the siren, Grigorenko restored Salavat’s two goal margin. In the short space of time between these goals, Alexeyev got into a fight with Vladimir Antipov and both were sent off for the remainder of the game.

The hosts emerged from the changing room still stung by the goal and looked more like themselves in the third period, and then they turned an intriguing match into a thriller with Evgeny Medvedev’s stunning strike from the centre zone. The puck hit the net before Yeremenko even saw it.

With half a minute left of regulation time the Kazan men exchanged their keeper for a sixth skater, but a second successive miraculous fightback was beyond them. Instead, Radulov guided the puck into an empty net to complete his double.

“We’re still alive!” maintained Vyacheslav Bykov, “I hope we can be just as relentless in the next game back home in Ufa.”

“To beat such an opponent four times in a row would be extremely difficult,” said a philosophical Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, “Today was the Ufa guys’ last chance to stay alive in the series, and they threw everything they had at us.”

Djaudat Abdullin

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