EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
(3) Salavat Yulaev Ufa 4
(4) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 3
Salavat Yulaev lead the series 1-0
Salavat Yulaev were tipped by many experts to have the upper hand in this pairing, but today's opening encounter showed that the expected Metallurg fatigue after the seven-game series against Avangard was nothing more than a myth. The Ufa men looked no fresher than the men from Magnitogorsk, and the latter were in no mood to sit back cautiously in defense; instead they attacked at a decent pace and created an abundance of chances.
"We hadn't played for a while, so it turned out to be a tough game. It was really hard to get into our rhythm," reflected Salavat Yulaev head coach Vyacheslav Bykov at the press conference. "I won't claim we gave a quality performance, although in the play-offs it's a battle for results, and I'm happy we successfully got through it."
The start of the game, however, was far from tough for the Ufa men. Salavat's first line needed just thirty seconds to make an impact.
"After the first shift, when we allowed that goal, we played fine," said the visitors' head coach, Kari Heikkila, looking downcast.
"Should we expect to see Tomas Rolinek appear in this series?"
"He might play, but as for whether or not he'll take part in the next game we'll make the final decision tomorrow. The puck hit his leg, so now he's resting."
Still in that first period, Magnitka equalized and even took the lead, but it lasted a matter of minutes, as Salavat stayed alert and immediately pounced on any mistakes in the visitors' defense.
Ufa defenseman Maxim Kondratyev gave his impressions: "After that long pause before the series this game was a tricky one. We picked up three penalties and allowed three goals, and as they suggested in the press, the Magnitka guys were in top form. But we coped with it, and gradually found our game. I think things will only get better."
"Your team mate, Viktor Kozlov, before the game stressed yesterday's triumph by Atlant, and that maybe Magnitka could go onto the ice in the same mood..."
"Yes, I watched the game yesterday. Atlant found the right spirit. We were prepared for a similar onslaught. It's a good thing that the Mytishchi guys played last night, and that many in our team saw the game."
"Did the long interval without playing have a big effect?"
"In fact, we prepared and trained twice a day. But, all the same, it's tougher to find your game after a break."
"Is the Magnitogorsk guys' playing style really nothing like that of Ak Bars?"
"The two teams are different, yes. Metallurg play a more attacking game. Against Ak Bars we had to play out of defense. That is, to play just as they did. Today the two teams managed to share seven goals, which I think is not bad."
After the game a debate still raged about Salavat Yulaev's third goal. Patrick Thoresen's first strike of this season's play-offs was a highly controversial one: a pass by Petri Kontiola went astray, leaving Igor Grigorenko one on one with the goaltender. When he failed to score, triggered a frenzied scramble in front of goal, and when the puck finally emerged it flew straight to the blade of the Norwegian's stick.
Many thought it was Alexander Radulov's hand which delivered the puck to Thoresen - a belief shared by all the Metallurg players, particularly forward Stanislav Chistov: "I believe we played better than the Ufa guys today, we were moving faster, but that third goal, scored with the help of a hand pass, dashed all our hopes."
"So you remember it more as being down to a refereeing mistake and not down to Kontiola's misdirected pass?"
"Of course, after the hand pass the officials have to whistle."
"What kind of game will Game 2 be?"
"I hope we'll win it. We'll get ready, watch the videos. The coach will tell where we need to improve."
"What happened in that episode when you let in the first goal?"
"We lost our concentration, plus there was the deafening noise from the spectators. The fans in Ufa support their team really well. But we fought our way back, so I don't think that goal had an effect on the eventual outcome."
Metallurg defenseman Evgeny Varlamov was asked to share the secret behind his team's impressive record in power play. "In every warm-up, in every training session we work on making use of numerical advantage, all through the season. Of course we'd like to allow fewer as well. In the play-offs to concede one or two goals is more than enough, but four is unforgivably high. The first put a damper on us, even though it was scored by breaking the rules, we believe, but it's our own fault - we didn't do our job in front of our goal."
"Is there much difference between Salavat Yulaev and Avangard?"
"Yes, a lot. In Omsk two lines are a lot stronger than the other two. In Ufa one line is just great, but it doesn't mean the other three are any weaker. They just have three classy lines and a main one that is, well, very classy. During my shifts, when I'm on the ice with them, you can't even relax for a second. Relax, and they score. What's more, we're playing with a depleted roster. But we’ll definitely give Salavat a battle. There are not many of us, but we're all at battle stations.
Andrei Lopata, Ufa