Today, the city of Kazan hosts part five of a fierce and epic contest – the “Green Derby” playoff series between local heroes Ak Bars and Salavat Yulaev of Ufa. The rivalry between these two collectives - the capitals of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, and the two most successful teams in the Tatar lands – is legendary, and when the pair met in last season’s playoffs they served up a seven-game thriller.
The contest can often upset the form books, and only last month (ironically enough, on Valentine’s Day) Salavat Yulaev snapped a nine-game losing streak with a shock victory over the Kazan men. Ak Bars leads the 2017 contest 3-1, and we have already had high-intensity drama: game-winners with 0.02 seconds on the clock, a fightback from 0-3, and only two days ago, Game 4 finished in sensational style when the Ufa men leveled the score with 40 seconds left on the clock, only for Canada’s Justin Azevedo to break Bashkir hearts with a goal seven seconds before the siren.
Ak Bars captain Alexander Svitov, formerly of Tampa Bay and Columbus (NHL record: 13 goals, 24 assists, and 223 penalty minutes in 179 games) has had a foot in both camps, having spent three seasons at each club, and he took time off preparations for today’s Game 5 to share his thoughts with khl.ru.
“I think Lady Luck smiled upon us in Ufa”
- What have been the most memorable moments in the four meetings so far?
Alexander Svitov: “All of it. The pace has not slackened for a second, the fans have adored it, nobody wants to lose, and the hockey has been very good. Neither team wants to retreat a single step.”
- In comparison with Game 3 in Ufa, when Ak Bars lost 3-4, the team seemed to have changed tactics for Wednesday’s Game 4. What did you do to turn your fortunes around?
Alexander Svitov: “I would not say that we radically changed anything. Then again, after every game there is some fine-tuning, and that goes for winning and losing sides. In the fourth match, we made some adjustments and improved a few things, and I think all the teams in the playoffs try to do the same.”
- One again, a single goal was the margin of victory in Game 4. What was it like when Salavat Yulaev leveled the score in the very last minute, and then you conjured up that amazing ending?
Alexander Svitov: “The game was very tight until the deadlock was broken, and we managed to get the crucial first goal. Then we were forced to do a lot of defending in the third period, as the Ufa guys put us under a lot of pressure. We failed to hold out when it was 5-on-6, but then we were able to score just seven seconds before the end. Lady Luck must have been smiling on us. It's great that we won.”
“I would not say that we radically changed anything. Then again, after every game there is some fine-tuning, and that goes for winning and losing sides. In the fourth match, we made some adjustments and improved a few things, and I think all the teams in the playoffs try to do the same.”
- What does the Green Derby mean to you?
Alexander Svitov: “It is the same in Kazan as when I played in Ufa; these games have always been very important. The guys go onto the ice expecting a battle and there is a tremendous will to win.”
- Ak Bars is now one game, one step from a place in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. How are you going to play in Game 5 in Kazan, and what kind of hockey can we expect from you?
Alexander Svitov: “Every game is a tough step, so we are training very hard for this match. We will try to play the kind of hockey which will win the game.”