Day 2 of the first round of the Gagarin Cup in the Western Conference leaves us with just one clear leader. The three remaining teams that started with a win were all unable to build on their early success.
(1) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 1
(8) Dinamo Minsk 4
Series tied 1-1
After Game 1 finished in a 7-4 win for the Yaroslavl men, forward Alexander Kalyanin claimed his team needed to work on its defense, saying it was good to score a hatful but it would be better not to allow so many. A day passes, and Vladimír Vůjtek’s team allows the same amount of goals but the scoring has dried up. Neither coach nor players could explain the sudden metamorphosis.
“The hockey we played yesterday and indeed all season was missing today,” ascertained Vůjtek. “Today we were second best at battling for possession and in skill. Our opponents deserved their win. Everything could have been different had the referees hadn’t disallowed that goal by Vasicek, where it came off his knee, then hit the goalie and in. And another goal wasn’t allowed when they stopped play too early, since the goaltender didn’t have control of the puck.”
Andrei Subbotin, named as Lokomotiv’s most valuable player, bemoaned his side’s bad luck: “Despite that really tough start for us, we didn’t give up and we tried to turn the game around, but it wasn’t to be. The puck just refused to hit the net, their goalie was rock solid, and we were unlucky at times, like when Korolyuk missed the empty net, and at other times there were controversial decisions from the officials.”
The Minsk men were leaving Yaroslavl in an elated mood. “We’ll be back to knock you out of the playoffs,” taunted Konstantin Glazachev as he left the changing rooms.
Jozef Stumpel paid tribute to the solid display from goaltender Robert Esche, adding: “Today we played out of defense, and dealt with spells of uneven strength really well. It’s pleasing to score four goals again, all is well for us up front, but the biggest factor in today’s win was a reliable defense.”
Now the two teams are off to Minsk and, it seems, the opposing coaches have different plans for the future. “We are going there to get two victories, and I won’t be happy with anything less,” said Vůjtek sharply. But Sykora was not so categorical: “I’ll be satisfied if we win even one home game.”
(2) Dynamo Moscow 8
(7) Dinamo Riga 4
Series tied 1-1
These two teams owed the spectators after their combined efforts in the first game produced just three goals in 63 minutes, and they repaid the faithful with interest. This time the puck was flying into the net every five minutes on average. Two goals came from Chris Simon, confirming that his move to Dynamo Moscow on the eve of the playoffs was not merely in hope that his aggressive appearance and imposing fighting record would strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. Neither should one forget that before the All-Star Game it was Chris who won the Accurate Shooting contest.
After the game the 39-year-old veteran was inclined to look at things philosophically: “Just as it would have been no use falling to pieces over yesterday’s defeat, it is not worth going overboard celebrating today’s win. We have a long road ahead of us, all the more so as we face a trip to Riga. I get the impression that the referees are trying with all their might to send me to the penalty box,” continued the forward, whose dismissal in the first period led to the Riga side’s second goal, “however, I just try to do my own thing. As you saw, today I scored two goals and could have had another. But the main thing is that the team won.”
The Muscovites’ head coach Oleg Znarok paid due credit to one of the game’s heroes, saying of Simon: “He’s a team player, just as he was at Vityaz. He has superb vision, he can pick out a pass, shoot accurately.”
For Riga head coach Julius Supler it was Simon’s second goal, making the score 6-4, which was the key moment. “That mistake in the third period decided it. Then we pulled the goalie. I’m not saying it was for practice, it’s just that there are certain methods that you always have to try. The final goal came from a lapse in concentration. It’s all ahead of us, we must concentrate on the next game and take it step by step, just as I told you yesterday.”
Znarok, however, answering questions at the press conference, talked about his team’s shortcomings.
“Dynamo are allowing a lot of goals from counter-attacks. Why is that?”
“It’s because Riga often play on the counter-attack. Maybe we haven’t adapted to their style. Maybe some of us are too elaborate. We have a heck of a lot of attackers in our defense.”
“In which department does your team need strengthening?”
(3) SKA St. Petersburg 4 OT
(6) Spartak Moscow 3
SKA lead the series 2-0
Game 2 followed the script of Game 1 to an uncanny degree: once again SKA led 3-1, again Spartak fought back to level, and yet again Mattias Weinhandl sealed victory for the hosts in overtime.
Spartak forward Alexei Shkotov could not hide his disappointment: “Of course it is gutting to lose once more, when you’ve spent every ounce of energy to come back and equalize. Against an experienced side, full of older players, you have to play it fast. All the guys today went all out to score, and when we made mistakes, SKA punished us. Maybe in overtime we should have been more cautious at the back, but we poured forward all the same. Now we’ll have to do an inquest, watch the video, although you can’t make big changes overnight. But we can put some things right, at the very least our play in front of goal. We’re allowing too many goals from close range. I think it will be a bit easier for us at home, we’re a little younger, we recover more quickly, and we won’t abandon our chosen playing style, we need to win.”
However, Alexei Yashin, one of those older players at SKA, doesn’t think recovering will be a problem: “Both teams are just as fit and in different areas, and spend the same amount of time out on the ice. I’ll note that all the goals for us and against us came from team play. We’ll be playing as a team in all the playoffs. Such hard-fought encounters give you confidence, and I hope we’ll build on it and keep playing that way. Spartak is a very quick outfit, and with them you have to keep your cool. We’ll be trying to concentrate on our defense.”
These closing words from the SKA captain brought agreement from another one of the veterans of the team, Maxim Afinogenov: “It was us who gave our opponents the chance to come back at us, by making the dumbest and crudest mistakes in defense. Spartak didn’t outplay us, we were beating ourselves in several episodes which were crucial. But all the same we played harder for victory and we deserved it.”
(4) Atlant Mytishchi 2
(5) Severstal Cherepovets 5
Series tied 1-1
Surely Severstal head coach Dmitry Kvartalnov lost too much nervous energy the day before, when he was so exasperated by the talk about turn from the officials over not allowing his team’s goal against Atlant in overtime. It was no surprise then at today’s press conference after Game 2, in which his team barely gave any room for doubting its overall superiority, that he was in a notably laconic mood: “We played well, especially the first two periods. After that we just secured the result. We’re happy with the result.”
Milos Riha also admitted the result was fair: “We didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t play according to plan, we allowed our opponents to provoke us. Of course, we congratulate Severstal, but we’ll have an inquest into what went wrong.”
The Atlant coach already reached one conclusion during the game, relegating Fedor Fedorov to the bench. The forward, who scored in the first period, wasted numerous good chances in the second, then his frustration boiled over and he earned eight minutes in the penalty box. He did not return to the fray. “He didn’t return for the end of the game because he didn’t carry out the game plan,” said Riha. “We don’t need all this conflicts and collisions. He needs to have a think: will he play hockey or play his own game?”
Meanwhile, top teams from the East just started their quarterfinal series.
(1) Avangard Omsk 1
(8) Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 2 ОТ
While Avangard, as outright winners of the regular championship, were considered the favorites in this pairing, it is unwise to call the Omsk men favorites in any home game against the Nizhnekamsk men. The statistics tell us that out of the last six meetings between these two rivals in Omsk, Vladimir Krikunov has celebrated five victories, including today’s. “It was a close-fought game. We had enough chances to score in the first two periods, and not a single goal. First goal – good morale, commitment, discipline,” was the visiting coach’s brief summary.
“We started very slowly, but found our game toward the end,” was Raimo Summanen’s take on the game.
Alexei Kalyuzhny feels exactly the same. “It’ll be a different story tomorrow. It’ll be tough tomorrow as well, but I think the result will be different, because in principle we were ready for such a turn of events. None of us expected it to be all over in four games, so we’re ready to battle and tomorrow we’ll turn things around. No-one’s losing heart; it’s understood by all of us.”
(2) Ak BarsKazan 1
(7) Barys Astana 0
Ak Bars and Barys are facing each other at the first round stage for the third season running. All six previous meetings were won by the Kazan men, but all have been close affairs - Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s men have not won any of them by more than a two-goal margin. This opening game of their third series continued in that vein.
“I don’t think we’re sick of each other,” said home defenseman Alexei Yemelin. “And besides, Barys had changes to the roster and a new coach. As for the low scoring, it’s all down to the tension. Anyway, all playoffs are unique in ways. Of course we had chances to score more, but we must give the opposition their due – they were highly disciplined at the back, and they never let us take liberties.”
“Our opponents started really strongly. But in the closing twenty minutes we had the upper hand. Sadly, we didn’t make the most of our chances, but I’m proud of the guys. I can’t fault them for effort,” said Barys head coach Andrei Khomutov.
Visiting goalie Vitaly Yeremeyev saved 44 shots. “I can’t say this game was a plus for me. Yes, I only allowed one goal, but it would never enter my head to consider myself a hero in a game that we lost. Although tomorrow, as I understand it, we’ll have a different goalie. I just hope the game goes a different way.
Zinetula Bilyaletdinov was his usual laconic self: “Mission accomplished for today. Now we’ll get ready for tomorrow’s game.”
(3) Salavat Yulaev Ufa 5
(2) Sibir Novosibirsk 2
If the Ufa men had wanted to, this could easily have been a massacre, indeed it was already a hammering by the start of the third period, but Vyacheslav Bykov’s men took their feet off the gas, and with two power play goals in the final twenty minutes the Novosibirsk men avoided a humiliation.
“You can see on the scoreboard what we’d achieved at the start. The mood of the team was very serious. We went out to give our all, give a hundred percent; you can’t do it any other way. The result of the first game is vital,” was the view of the hosts’ forward Vladimir Antipov.
Alexei Medvedev, who had three years at Salavat Yulaev before donning the colors of Sibir, was unruffled by the losing start to the series: “We lost, but we’re not devastated. We need to tighten up our play at the back and not let the opposition move so freely with the puck in our zone. In the second period, sadly, we failed to do this and that’s why we lost. Now we need to see why we made those mistakes and rebuild in time for tomorrow.”
Novosibirsk head coach Andrei Tarasenko was in an even more resolute mood: “It’s only the first game. We won’t even mention the possibility of giving up. There’s no way in Ufa will our heads drop or will we stop playing our game. In the third period we tried to put up a resistance and we did it, keeping tomorrow’s game in mind. Today we certainly didn’t look our best, but we have to look to the future.”
(4) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 4
(5) Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk 2
The KHL new boys matched the Magnitogorsk men blow for blow for more than two periods, and even outshot their opponents. And although they finished as the losing side, Sergei Shepelev had no complaints about his players: “I congratulate my opposite number on his team’s victory. I think the fans will have enjoyed this game. The match could have gone either way right until the very end. I have no complaints whatsoever about the commitment shown by my team. Metallurg is a highly skillful side, who can take advantage of any chance you hand them. It is hard for us to play against ‘Magnitka’ but we went into this game to take the battle to the opposition.
As with Shepelev, Kari Heikkila was also satisfied: “It was a good opening test for the play-offs. The start was very tense, but then everyone found their places. We were good up until the 15th minute of the second period, after which we lost some concentration, picked up a few penalties and let our opponents level the score. The third goal settled the game, we played confidently after that and wrapped up the victory. As for Lasse Kukkonen, they’ve confirmed he’ll need a minimum four weeks to recover, whereas Evgeny Biryukov was taken ill, but he could already be back on the ice by tomorrow.”