The visitors surge ahead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

(1) Avangard Omsk 3
(4) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 4 ОТ

Metallurg lead the series 2-0
For their second game on their own ice the Omsk players, as they had promised earlier, started in a much livelier fashion. Possibly too lively, as by the 50 second mark they could be already missing one of their leading attackers, Alexander Perezhogin, who collided first with Metallurg goaltender Georgy Gelashvili and then far more heavily with the boards. But in the next shift it was Perezhogin himself who opened the scoring, and in the 7th minute Roman Cervenka doubled the Omsk men’s advantage. In between the two goals defenseman Denis Kulyash also found the net, but the officials had spotted an offside.

Although Metallurg recovered from the opening onslaught, pulled themselves together and calmed the game down, the hosts should probably have put the result beyond doubt before the end of the first period, but they twice failed to turn a 5-on-3 advantage into goals.

For this they were made to pay: in the second period the visitors managed to equalize, allowing them to start playing out of defense and threaten their opponents on the counter-attack, but now it was the guests’ turn to be wasteful, with both Denis Khlystov and Juhamatti Aaltonen spurning decent scoring chances.

The Magnitogorsk men were uncharacteristically slow finding their rhythm after the break, and just 25 seconds into the final period punishment arrived in the form of Yegor Averin’s strike giving Avangard a 3-2 lead. “At the start of every period we had some misunderstandings and lapses in concentration,” Metallurg forward Sergei Fedorov recalled. “Fortune came and went today several times. We were trailing 0-2 and it seemed we’d had it; what the heck could we do? We didn’t even pose any danger to their goal. But then, when we did create some chances, we took them.”

In the end it was Metallurg’s Finns who had the last word: two minutes before the final siren Petri Kontiola’s goal took the game into overtime, during which Aaltonen brought victory to his team.

The Magnitogorsk men now boast a healthy 2-0 lead in the series, but Fedorov insisted that this win was far from easy. “I can’t really say we expected this. I think it’s a surprise, because the Omsk guys are a class above Yugra. We were ready for anything, and we prepared ourselves for serious, strong opponents.”

And so out of six home games in this season’s play-offs, only two have ended in victory for Avangard. Fedorov sees nothing out of the ordinary in this: “Some say it’s harder playing at home. There are pros and cons to playing on the road and on your own ice. There’s an old joke: you don’t bring your home ice on your travels. So you must try to win everywhere.”

Avangard forward Igor Volkov gave this reason for the defeat: “I think we were a bit impatient this time. But on the other hand if you never open up you can hardly expect to win any game. You just have to play, and that’s what we were doing, but maybe we smelled victory too early, and got punished for it. It’s a lesson for us, and we’ll learn from it.”

Stanislav Mukhin, Omsk

(2) Ak Bars Kazan 1
(3) Salavat Yulaev Ufa 3

Salavat Yulaev lead the series 2-0
“Saying that this was a tough game doesn’t tell you anything,” Vyacheslav Bykov said in his summary. “But our failure to score into an empty net, twice, speaks volumes…”

There was not even a hint of guile behind the Salavat Yulaev coach’s words. Notwithstanding the Ufa men’s triumph giving them a healthy series lead, and with both victories achieved at the home of the champions, the admiration he shows for his opponents is far from the routine platitudes we sometimes hear from a magnanimous victor.

The same mutual respect between these two giants of the Eastern Conference was evident in Salavat Yulaev forward Viktor Kozlov’s views: “This is a series between two evenly-matched, top class opponents. And with a team as good as Ak Bars, you cannot drop your guard for a single second. They have so much skill and they work hard from the first second to the last. And both teams play good hockey.”

The hosts began in a highly active mood, fluently taking the play into their opponents’ zone. “Well, where else should we go?” said defenseman Alexei Yemelin. “Having lost Game 1 we needed to make an aggressive start. Although our opponents began with the same attitude; they weren’t slow to put us under pressure.”

The closing stages of the opening period were no less hectic, with Ak Bars whipping up such a storm around the visitors’ goal you could be forgiven for thinking they had an extra skater. However, as the second period drew to a close the hosts were visibly flagging, and just like in Game 1 they allowed a goal a matter of seconds before the break.

At the start of the final period Vyacheslav Kozlov could have removed most, if not all, doubt about the outcome when he fired the puck toward what was practically an empty net. With Petri Vehanen stranded, the goal behind him seemed to cower in terror, but the puck sailed harmlessly over.

And so, instead of seeing their advantage doubled, Salavat saw it vanish completely, as Ilya Nikulin gratefully took advantage of a power play and fired the hosts level. The absent offender was Patrick Thoresen, and on his return from the penalty box he also contrived to miss an empty net. “I have no complaints whatsoever about Patrick’s commitment,” said Bykov, unwilling to criticize his forward in the presence of the assembled journalists. “The Kazan guys did a great job of blocking out the players of our first line.”

Having thrown away a series of easy chances, the visitors scored during a spell when even half-chances were scarce. Janne Pesonen lost the puck, then Evgeny Medvedev lost out to Petr Schastlivy, who gratefully struck the goal which decided the outcome. A further goal in power play by Sergei Zinovyev wiped out any lingering doubt.

The result means this series, regarded as a premature Gagarin Cup final, has begun as it did a year ago, with two victories for the visitors. Back then, however, it was Ak Bars in the role of marauding invaders, on their way to winning not only the series, but also the KHL’s biggest prize of all.

But Vyacheslav Bykov chose to ignore the obvious comparisons. “It’s a contest between two completely equal teams. Yes, last year they began with two wins on our ice, and this year we’ve done it to them, but that tells us nothing, it is not an omen of anything. It matters to neither team whether they’re at home or on the road.”

Jaudat Abdullin, Kazan

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