Andy Potts,
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Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2 Ak Bars Kazan 0

(Metallurg leads the series 2-0)

The defending champion took a firm grip of the Eastern Conference Final series, opening a 2-0 lead over Ak Bars thanks to goals from Evgeny Timkin and Danis Zaripov, plus Vasily Koshechkin’s second shut-out of the playoffs.

Magnitka took the lead after just 76 seconds with a goal that the Ak Bars defense would rather forget. There shouldn’t have been much danger when Yaroslav Khabarov attempted a shot from the point, but Timkin found himself with time enough to beat Emil Garipov to the rebound as Rafael Batyrshin and Albert Yarullin failed to get close enough to the forward.

Such an early goal piled up the pressure on Ak Bars and allowed Metallurg to focus on preserving its advantage. While the visitor enjoyed plenty of possession, it struggled to really get inside the home defense and threaten Koshechkin’s net in the first period.

The middle session provided more goalmouth action than the first, with Ak Bars gradually asking more questions of the Metallurg blue liners. But the best chances – Justin Azevedo denied a shot on an empty net by Timkin, Damir Musin finding a menacing position to test Koshechkin – came on a power play late in the period with Magnitka already two goals to the good. Zaripov, one of the stars of the first game of the series, was at it again to bag his 13th post-season goal in only his 11th playoff game. This one was a tribute to his partnership with Sergei Mozyakin and Jan Kovar: a rare misplaced shot from Mozyakin turned into a pass to the Czech, who delivered a lovely no-look assist on his backhand for Zaripov to score from close range.

The frustration was starting to show for Ak Bars, and Denis Golubev immediately found himself in trouble after picking a fight with Kovar as Metallurg celebrated the goal. A double minor for roughing did little to aid his team’s prospects, even if the visitor successfully killed the penalty.

Into the final stanza, and Ak Bars struggled to find those shooting chances. On several occasions, promising positions faded away without Magnitka’s goalie being called into action. The final blow came in the 58th minute, when a penalty on Yarullin robbed Bilyaletdinov’s team of the chance to unleash a final storm on the home net. In the end, Koshechkin finished with 30 saves and a shut-out.

Metallurg ultimately came closest to adding to the score, with two efforts hitting the frame of the goal. Defenseman Evgeny Biryukov’s shot found Oskar Osala’s stick on its way through to the net; the Finn’s deflection took the puck onto the post, much to Garipov’s relief. Then, in the dying seconds, Alexander Semin pinged one off the piping as the Ak Bars defense got stretched in the quest for a fightback.

The action now switches to Kazan, with Ak Bars hoping that home ice advantage can help claw back a 0-2 deficit in the series.

26.03.17. KHL Championship 2016/17. Playoffs. Metallurg (Magnitogorsk) - Ak Bars (Kazan)

Andy Potts,
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