Andy Potts,
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Metallurg Magnitogorsk 3 SKA St. Petersburg 1

(Series tied at 1-1)

Vladislav Kaletnik isn’t one of the most feared goalscorers at Metallurg. The 22-year-old is still learning his trade, and his marker in a 5-3 victory over Kunlun Red Star back in February was his first ever playoff goal in the KHL. But his short-handed effort tonight, late in the second period, upstaged the more established marksmen in game two of the Gagarin Cup Final, leading Magnitka to a narrow victory and tying the series at 1-1.

It all happened in the 38th minute. The home team, killing a penalty, saw a chance to counter attack. Oskar Osala led the rush, but failed to really get hold of his shot. Igor Shestyorkin pushed the puck away with his pads, only for Vladislav Kaletnik to race in and put away the rebound, snapping a 1-1 tie and punishing SKA for its failure to convert several earlier chances. Tommi Santala’s empty-net goal put the seal of Metallurg’s win, and sets up Wednesday’s trip to St. Petersburg nicely.

SKA, though, will be wondering how it failed to put the game beyond reach in the first period. The visitor dominated the shot count throughout, and were especially impressive in the opening stanza when it allowed just two attempts on its own net. However, Jan Kovar ensured that one of them counted, opening the scoring with a power play goal in the eighth minute, against the run of play.

SKA responded quickly. In the 12th minute, Vadim Shipachyov was allowed to lurk unmolested at the back door. Nikita Gusev found him, and the forward delivered a confident finish for the second power play goal of the game. Metallurg, angry at what it felt to be a harsh call against Sergei Mozyakin for the initial penalty, found itself a man down again almost immediately and was left clinging on desperately as the formidable SKA power play cruised through the gears once again. Shipachyov’s long pass picked out Gusev for a shot that flashed into the side netting. Ilya Kovalchuk pinged one off the crossbar with Vasily Koshechkin grasping at thin air. Anton Belov saw his shot hit the inside of the post and sit, tantalizingly, in the crease before Viktor Antipin reacted to sweep it away from danger. Like a prize fighter on the receiving end of a haymaker, Metallurg rocked and reeled – but refused to go down.

The balance of play shifted in the middle session. SKA was still creating the greater number of chances, but the difference was no longer overwhelming. Instead, Magnitka’s offense was beginning to ask some questions of its own. Mozyakin looked increasingly dangerous, Tomas Filippi had a couple of testing chances and, for the first time in the game, the teams were trading blows more or less evenly. A penalty on Evgeny Timkin seemed to give SKA the initiative, but Kaletnik’s goal took the game in the opposite direction.

Now Metallurg began to believe it could win, despite the fearsome fusillade that continued at the other end. Timkin came out of the sin bin and almost scored immediately. Mozyakin’s skill carved out a chance early in the third only for Patrik Hersley to overpower the forward at the last moment. But SKA was equally determined: Kovalchuk tested Koshechkin after a slip from Alexei Bereglazov and steadily the pressure grew as the final stanza wore on. Metallurg was pushed deeper and deeper, the puck rarely made it into SKA territory. Danis Zaripov was reduced to trying his luck from the red line as the intensity of the visiting offense grew with every shift.

But a combination of bodies on the line in defense and alert goaltending from Koshechkin kept SKA at bay. The home goalie had 43 saves; the visiting offense clocked an incredible 103 attempts, of which 37 were blocked by the Metallurg defense. Off came Shestyorkin in a last bid to conjure something from the game, but the gamble failed. Timkin burst clear down the left flank, only to shoot wide of the empty net. The puck swung around the boards for Santala and the Finn – who began the day with the unwelcome news that he would be fined after the disciplinary panel handed him a 5+20 for an incident in Saturday’s game – ended the game by sending it back into the empty net.

That confirmed Metallurg’s victory and locks up the series at 1-1. Now the action moves to St. Petersburg, where the teams meet again on Wednesday and Friday as the race for the Gagarin Cup continues.

10.04.17. KHL Championship 2016/17. Playoffs. Final. Metallurg (Magnitogorsk) - SKA (St.Petersburg)

Andy Potts,
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