(Metallurg leads the series 1-0)
Sergei Mozyakin’s season to remember continued with an overtime winner as he brought up three figures for the season. Metallurg’s captain took his 2016-17 points tally to 101 with a goal and an assist as the defending champion came from behind to claim the first victory of this year’s Eastern Conference Final.
Mozyakin’s winner came early in the second period of overtime and showed all the hallmarks of a master marksman. Capitalizing on a hasty line change, he took up a menacing position on Ak Bars’ blue line, beyond the defensemen who were slow in covering the danger man. Chris Lee, from beyond his own goal line, picked out the killer pass and Mozyakin was off to the races. A calm approach to Emil Garipov’s net was followed with a devastating finish to leave the visiting goalie with no chance. After 85 minutes of hard-fought hockey, we finally had a winner.
It was probably a fair reflection of overtime. Although Ak Bars had more attempts on goal, Magnitka created the greater danger. Danis Zaripov went close midway through the first extra session, and Tomas Filippi came even closer in the 78th minute, testing Garipov with a shot from a tight angle after Alexander Semin’s delightful feed. The video official was called to adjudicate – no goal.
But the early stages of the game were far more encouraging for the visitor. Metallurg had enjoyed a long rest after sweeping Barys in the previous round, while Ak Bars only wrapped up its series against Avangard on Sunday. The difference in sharpness was apparent in the early stages as the Steelmen struggled to shake off a hint of rust and the Leopards looked to pounce on an underpowered opponent.
Ak Bars took the lead midway through the game, thanks to a power play goal from Fyodor Malykhin. The forward won himself a dangerous position on the slot in time to divert Atte Ohtamaa’s shot beyond Vasily Koshechkin to open the scoring.
But Metallurg gained in strength and composure as the second period progressed, perhaps begin to shake off some of the rustiness that afflicted its game in the early exchanges. And, with two-and-a-half minutes to play before the second intermission, Zaripov tied the scores. The forward showed great vision as he took up a position between the hash marks and opened himself for Viktor Antipin’s backhand pass out of the left-hand circle. Then Zaripov produced an unstoppable shot that ripped past Emil Garipov and flew back out of the net before the goalie could react.
Zaripov was part of the Ak Bars roster in the 2009-10 season, the only previous time these two famous clubs met in post-season action. However, injury restricted him to just one playoff appearance in that campaign and he had no impact on the Kazan team’s victory over Magnitka in the Conference Semi-final. This season, though, Zaripov’s contribution has been huge: Friday’s goal was his 12th of the current playoffs, the fifth best return in KHL history in only his 10th post-season game. The KHL’s all-time best goal haul was 15, set by Evgeny Dadonov in SKA’s 2015 title-winning team; Zaripov seems well on course to beat that.
Mozyakin is another player in record-breaking form, and his assist on Zaripov’s goal brought up his 100th point of a monumental season. He was close to adding his 101st on the power play in the third, firing in a shot that Garipov found too hot to hold and seeing Jan Kovar collect the rebound and shoot agonizingly pass the far post from a tight angle. In the event, he had to wait until overtime to add to his tally, which he did in emphatic style.
The series continues Sunday in Magnitogorsk. The puck drops at 1500 Moscow time as Ak Bars looks to level the scores before the action moves to Kazan next week.