(1) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2
(3) Lev 1 (1OT)
Metallurg leads the series 3-2
Sergei Mozyakin grabbed two more goals – including the overtime decider – to stretch his record-breaking points haul to 103 points for the season and put Metallurg one game away from winning the Gagarin Cup for the first time.
Nine minutes into the first period of overtime in this year’s final his one-timer from the deep slot slid past Petri Vehanen to trigger scenes of celebration in Magnitogorsk. Although there are still potentially two further games in the series, nobody was in any out of the psychological importance of going to Prague on Monday with the lead and the chance to claim the trophy in game six.
As such fans were treated to an enthralling game, low on goals but high on quality as both teams worked hard to ensure that they didn’t make the mistake that might cost them the game. Rigorous, precise defense was the watchword – so much so that neither team drew a penalty in 68 minutes of play – while both teams battled hard for every opportunity to get pucks to the net.
The underlying narrative of this series has become a shoot-out between two forwards. In the blue corner, Mozyakins’ familiar goal-grabbing exploits represent Metallurg’s clearest path to glory. In the red corner, the less well-known Justin Azevedo has been matching his rival blow for blow to keep Lev firmly in the quest for honors.
Both were on the scoresheet again in game five, proving that while coaches can easily identify the dangers that face their teams, defenses often have a tougher time neutralizing those threats. Mozyakin, so often the key player for Magnitka, was first to show this time, opening the scoring in the 26th minute. Great work from Jan Kovar down the boards created the chance for Mozyakin to laser a one-timer low inside Vehanen’s near post.
In every game so far, the team scoring first has gone on to win. But in every game so far, Azevedo has scored, and the Canadian forward maintained that record to ensure that Mozyakin’s goal would not end Lev’s hopes. He tied the game early in the third with a goal characteristic of Lev’s play throughout the play-offs. Martin Sevc fired a shot from the blue line and Azevedo, part of the traffic the Czechs love to generate around the net, touched it past Vasily Koshechkin to make it six goals in five games for the series, and 11 play-off goals overall.
Attentive defense did not mean there were few chances: both sets of forwards had to work hard to earn their opportunities, but still managed to find the space for shots on goal. For Lev, particularly in the first period, these tended to be from long range, with the Czechs again eager to put traffic in front of Vasily Koshechkin’s net and bombard the goalie through a crowd of players. Meanwhile Magnitka was more willing to seek out the pass that might unlock the path to Vehanen, although perhaps the clearest opening of the first session came from a wayward clearance by Jakub Nakladal that put Danis Zaripov clean through. The forward seemed as surprised as everyone else, though, and fired straight at the goalie.
The second session, even after Mozyakin’s goal, was characterized by the clash between determined defense and potent offense. The determination was typified by home defenseman Tim Brent. Even after losing his stick he played on for the best part of a minute, taking two shots to the body as Lev stepped up its efforts to tie the game.
In the third session, with the game tied once again, Magnitka continued to create danger around Vehanen’s net. Mozyakin himself went close once again, and in the final 10 minutes a rush by Bogdan Potekhin ended with Brent following up from close range to test the goalie’s reflexes once again. And Metallurg almost won in with a breakaway in the last couple of minutes, but Ryan O’Byrne did brilliantly to block Kovar’s pass towards Mozyakin, confirming the first session of overtime in this year’s final.
That session saw Metallurg finally gain a clear advantage on the ice, and a rare defensive lapse allowed Mozyakin a dangerous amount of space to receive Kovar’s well-placed pass and fire his team to the brink of glory.