EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
(4) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2 OT
(3) Salavat Yulaev 1
Salavat Yulaev lead the series 2-1
Metallurg sent onto the ice a team which closely resembled their ideal lineup, bringing all the big guns into battle, including Tomas Rolinek and Lasse Kukkonen. The latter has been lacking match practice since the end of the regular season, but his return undoubtedly strengthened the Magnitogorsk defense. The Salavat Yulaev armory, in contrast, was missing Jakub Klepis.
“Rolinek and Kukkonen were ready to take to the ice for Game 2 in Ufa, but we decided to give them both a little more time to recuperate,” explained Metallurg assistant coach Alexander Barkov. “They are still feeling the effects of their injuries but they had to play today – we had no other choice.”
Having conducted the inquest into the previous defeats in Ufa and with no desire to repeat Lokomotiv’s mistakes, the Magnitogorsk men made a highly-disciplined start to the game and did not even incur a single penalty for the entire opening period, while a clear increase in the pace seemed to surprise even Salavat themselves, with visiting goaltender Erik Ersberg given more than enough to do.
In the seventh minute Denis Khlystov had the packed Arena Metallurg rising to its feet when his shot from distance flew into the Ufa goal. Before Khlystov’s shot, however, Sergei Fedorov had strayed into the offensive zone and the referee rightly signaled offside.
A determined Metallurg still managed to open the scoring: early in the second period Enver Lisin, marauding behind the visitors’ goal, guided a pass back to an advancing and unmarked Alexei Kaigorodov, and his clean strike from close range found the net. The celebrations and the lead lasted less than two minutes: Viktor Kozlov gave Georgy Gelashvili no chance with a deadly accurate strike into the top corner from the blue line.
All the statistics for the first two periods attested to Metallurg’s superiority, but in the third they sat back and the visitors surged forward, firing off 14 shots to the hosts’ 6, but Gelashvili was equal to all of them. “Things were fine at the beginning of the third, but then the play drifted closer and closer to our goal, because we started losing possession in the neutral zone,” said Kari Heikkila, mildly rebuking his charges. “Our rhythm was broken, and in the play-offs rhythm is crucial.”
Fate deemed that neither side would manage to alter the scoreboard further during regulation time, and so the game progressed to a nail-biting overtime, and here Lady Luck smiled on Magnitka. A mere three minutes into added time the outcome was settled by young Pavel Zdunov, who receiving the puck from Tomas Rolinek, and deflected it under a startled Erik Ersberg and into the near corner of the net, and the Magnitogorsk men began celebrating their first overtime triumph over Salavat since way back in season 1998/1999.
“We did as the coach told us – we sent the puck deep into enemy territory, and there Tomas Rolinek supplied the pass from practically behind the goal,” said a jubilant Pavel Zdunov back in the changing rooms, as he lapped up the congratulations from his comrades. “It’s the first time I’ve scored such an important goal, and it’s a great feeling.”
Ufa head coach Vyacheslav Bykov was obviously experiencing different feelings: “It was interesting hockey. I won’t say one team sat back in defense, but everyone was putting all concentration on keeping it tight at the back and trying to play without mistakes. But there were mistakes and counter-attacks – they’re inevitable. It turned out to be a tough game.”
His opposite number Kari Heikkila, having brought the intrigue back into this series, looked much more upbeat: “A good game, in which both teams displayed hockey of the highest level. I’m happy with my team – we showed character, and everyone in the team wants to work. Today we had some decent chances to settle the outcome earlier, but the game-winner was destined to arrive in overtime.”
Anton Chaika, Magnitogorsk