Andy Potts,
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Metallurg Magnitogorsk outlasted Barys to claim a 3-2 overtime win and book its place in the Eastern Conference Final next week. In the other game, Ak Bars claimed victory over Avangard thanks to a pair of first-period goals. The Kazan team now leads the series 3-1 and could wrap it up in Omsk on Friday.

Kovar carries Magnitka into the last four

Barys Astana 2 Metallurg Magnitogorsk 3 (OT)

(Metallurg wins the series 4-0)

Last season’s Gagarin Cup winner, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, became the first team to secure its place in the Conference Finals for 2017 after wrapping up a sweep of Barys.

An overtime goal from Jan Kovar – Magnitka’s third power play goal of the night – finally saw off a Barys team that was determined to extend the series but fell narrowly short as its season came to a close.

The winner came in the 79th minute as Maxim Semyonov sat out a minor penalty for tripping. Chris Lee set the play in motion, moving the puck wide left to Sergei Mozyakin, lurking with intent on the goalline. Mozyakin drilled the puck across the face of the net, and Kovar was on hand at the far post to tap it home and wrap up the series. Metallurg thus became the first team into the Eastern Conference final, dropping just one game in the opening two rounds of playoff action.

The Metallurg power play had brought the team to the brink of victory in regulation. Trailing 0-1 to Nigel Dawes’ first-period strike, Magnitka turned the game around in the final stanza. The equalizer came on 46 minutes through the same trio that got the game-winner. Lee kept the puck in play at the point and played a square pass for Mozyakin to flash a shot from the blue line. Kovar had the vital touch in front of the net, deceiving Henrik Karlsson and bringing the visitor level.

Then Lee, already the holder of a new KHL record for post-season assists from a defenseman, got his first playoff goal of this campaign to make it 2-1 in the 49th minute. Lee collected an attempted clearance on the blue line, advanced into a shooting position, shaped as if to shoot then continued as space opened up in front of him. Finally, from between the hash marks, he got his shot away to beat Karlsson.

But Barys was not ready to give up, and forced overtime thanks to a first ever playoff goal from Nikita Mikhailis. The 21-year-old tied the game at 2-2 in the 52nd minute. He was first to react as the puck looped into the air after Corey Trivino’s shot was blocked, and Mikhailis got his stick to it to wrap up a move that began with Maxim Khudyakov bringing the disk from behind the net and playing a backhand pass into the danger zone.

Once again, the series was following a pattern of a comfortable Metallurg win followed by Barys taking a game to overtime. But once again, the Kazakhs were unable to win it in the extras … and this loss proved fatal for their playoff prospects. Metallurg can now rest until March 24, when it will begin the Eastern Conference Final at home to the winners of the Ak Bars vs Avangard series.

15.03.17. KHL Championship 2016/17. Playoffs. Barys (Astana) - Metallurg (Magnitogorsk)

Ak Bars withstands Avangard rally

Ak Bars Kazan 2 Avangard Omsk 1

(Ak Bars leads the series 3-1)

Ak Bars is just one game away from defeating Avangard for the third time in KHL playoff action – but fans in Kazan endured an anxious third period before their heroes delivered the victory.

At first it all seemed straightforward for the host. A powerful first period saw Ak Bars take the game its opponent right from the start, and that pressure yielded two unanswered goals. Captain Alexander Svitov got the first in the 10th minute, getting away from Vitaly Menshikov on the boards and heading to the face-off spot before shooting on goal. The attempt did not look all that dangerous when it left Svitov’s stick, but goalie Dominik Furch fumbled his attempted glove save and swatted the puck against the bar and in off his own back as he flailed desperately around the crease.

Then the in-form Andrei Popov found the net late in the opening stanza, adding to his goal and assist in Monday’s meeting. This time he got his stick to Damir Musin’s shot from the point and dragged the puck across the face of the wrong-footed Furch and into the bottom corner.

Avangard successfully clawed back a two-goal deficit after the first period on Monday, and sought to repeat that trick again tonight. However, the home defense was in a less obliging mood, stonewalling the Omsk offense in the middle session. That all changed early in the third, when Nikolai Lemtyugov halved the deficit. Vladimir Sobotka made it, cutting out an attempted clearance and kickstarting an attack down the left. As the Ak Bars defense scrambled to cut out his path to goal, the Czech paused and saw Lemtyugov unmarked in the opposite circle. An accurate pass gave his team-mate a routine chance to finish as Emil Garipov struggled to shut down the angles in time.

Suddenly the balance of play was different. Avangard could see a way back, Ak Bars faced more pressure on its defense. The tension rose, with neither side able to grab a vital goal. In the closing moments a penalty on Albert Yarullin handed Avangard a power play, and with Furch called to the bench the visitor finished with a 6-on-4 advantage. It was time for players to put their bodies on the line, and Mikhail Varnakov made a huge block to deny Avangard a scoring chance. Sobotka almost forced overtime in the dying seconds with a powerful shot from the circle, but Garipov held on and Ak Bars claimed the victory.

The action heads back to Siberia on Friday, with Avangard needing a win on home ice to prolong this series and remain in contention for a Conference Final showdown against Metallurg.

15.03.17. KHL Championship 2016/17. Playoffs. Ak Bars (Kazan) - Avangard (Omsk region)

Andy Potts,
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Avangard (Omsk) Avangard (Omsk)
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Barys (Nur-Sultan) Barys (Nur-Sultan)
Metallurg (Magnitogorsk) Metallurg (Magnitogorsk)
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