Ak Bars have now won two out of two in the best-of-seven battle for the Gagarin Cup. This time the winning margin was three goals and the hockey was significantly more entertaining than in the first encounter.

One of the heroes of the match, Dmitry Obukhov, told the press how his team made sure they did not drop their guard after winning the opening game.
“We made slight changes to our tactics,” he explained. “In what way? We’ll keep that secret. But our opponents also changed their play from the first game. They kept attacking and attacking, but we came out on top.”

As if under a spell, the Kazan team to a man repeated the same mantra: they must not get complacent with the 0-2 lead.
“We’ve stepped on that particular rake once before,” said defenseman Evgeny Medvedev. “We quickly threw away an early series lead on our own ice against Metallurg Magnitogorsk, so I don’t need to tell you how seriously we are taking our current opponents.”

The Militia Men, try as they might, simply could not find a way to breach the fortress that is Petri Vehanen, and by the time a great team move gave the home team a goal, the visitors had already put the outcome beyond doubt, as Oleg Znarok confirmed:
“Their second was the killer goal. But I cannot put any blame on my players. They battled away and gave their all.”

Certainly, several of the HC MVD players deserve at least a medal for valor. In one episode, Alexei Tsvetkov intercepted the puck with his head, and a pool of blood formed on the ice, but after only five minutes the forward returned to the fray. Alexander Boykov also had to leave the game for a short spell after breaking his nose, while Roman Derlyuk has long been playing with a broken toe.

“I’m proud of every one of our guys today,” said HC MVD president Mikhail Tyurkin. “But, all the same, I have to question some of the refereeing. We just want to see how the experts rated these officials. As for the series, we’ve lost nothing yet. 0:2 is not out of reach.”

The victorious visiting team left the ice with smiles on their faces, but they too had been in the wars. Evgeny Medvedev was unable to finish the game after sustaining damage to his arm.

“I really enjoyed this game. It was tough, combative hockey,” said Ak Bars head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov.

The game was indeed one of the more lively encounters, with a lot of tough tackling and several goalmouth scrambles. But the hosts let their emotions get the better of them, best illustrated at the end of the second period when Yury Babenko was the aggressor in a skirmish with Andrei Pervyshin. Babenko received a penalty, and just thirty seconds into his absence Ak Bars struck the very goal which Oleg Znarok later described as the fatal blow.

“It seemed to me we both deserved a penalty for that incident,” argued Babenko after the game. “And there were other instances of one player being punished for clashes in which both sides were guilty. But mainly the Kazan guys won because of their experience.”

Experience, or lack of it, is probably the only factor preventing HC MVD from matching the reigning champions, but despite these early setbacks their team spirit remains high. After the game the home players were smiling and chatting, and said we should forget these first two games. Exactly the same spirit, in fact, as after their defeats to Lokomotiv.

Alexei Shevchenko

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