(SKA leads the series 2-1)
Hockey should be a simple game. Get pucks to the net, work the opposition goalie, and eventually, results will come.
But this series is starting to suggest that the usual indicators may not always be reliable. After a game two loss in which it dominated the attacking play, SKA encountered similar problems here in St. Petersburg. The shots piled up, the opportunities were created … but the goals were hard to come by.
As the race for the Gagarin Cup marked Cosmonauts’ Day – the 56th anniversary of Yury Gagarin’s historic trip into orbit – the teams produced a game longer than the 65 minutes he spent in orbit around the Earth. Indeed, they threatened to rival the 108-minute journey of Vostok-1 from launch to landing before SKA finally grabbed its winner.
By the time Evgeny Dadonov settled the outcome in the 93rd minute, the home team had fired in 60 shots on Vasily Koshechkin’s net. For the second game in a row, SKA managed 100 attempts on goal in total, but found Koshechkin and his colleagues in obdurate mood.
The winning goal was another triumph for the Dadonov-Shipachyov-Gusev line. Vadim Shipachyov fed Nikita Gusev in center ice and for a moment it seemed that Gusev might be about to do it all on his own as he tormented Metallurg’s tiring defense. Eventually he was steered away from the net, but not before he could get the puck to Dadonov with a clear shooting lane from the right. In came the shot, rattling around off post and bar enough to give Metallurg hope of an appeal to the video referee; victory was confirmed from the sidelines and another epic battle between these teams was over at last.
Much like Monday’s game, this one started with a surge towards Koshechkin in the Metallurg net. Gusev was a constant menace early on, buzzing around Magnitka’s zone and making things happen. It was his pass from beyond the goal line that teed up Anton Belov for a shot that Koshechkin barely managed to push past the far post; it was his rush that almost presented Shipachyov with a good look at Koshechkin. Metallurg hit penalty trouble, Gusev tested the goalie again late on. It was turning into a one-sided encounter.
For all SKA’s creativity, though, the opening goal came from a good old-fashioned hammer blow. Andrei Zubarev collected the puck in center ice, advanced to the red line and let fly with a long-range effort that kept low beneath the leap of a team-mate and surprised Koshechkin. For SKA, which twice conceded goals from the red line to Dynamo’s Andrei Kuteikin earlier in the playoffs, it was an unexpected way to take a deserved lead.
Metallurg, heavily outshot in the first half of the game, gradually began to pose more of a threat. A penalty on Yegor Yakovlev in the 30th minute helped to shift the momentum and the play was more even as the second period drew to a close. The equalizer came just six seconds before the intermission. Magnitka rolled forward and produced a slick bit of tic-tac-toe: Vladislav Kaletnik to Chris Lee, then a pass fizzing across the face of goal to Denis Kazionov at the back door.
The third period reverted to the initial script, with SKA having more of the play and Metallurg relying on counter attacks to keep Mikko Koskinen honest on his return to the starting line-up. The best chance to win it in regulation was also the last. Alexander Barabanov found himself all alone in front of the net, but his attempt to fire in a backhand was hurried and the puck went wide of the target. Overtime followed.
The extras saw two big chances for Magnitka, both coming when a well-placed pass released a forward for a duel with Koskinen. The first opportunity, on 63 minutes, went to Vladislav Kaletnik, but Monday’s game winner shot wide of the mark. The next, 10 minutes later, fell to Sergei Mozyakin, but for once his scoring touch deserted him as Patrik Hersley got back to make the block.
However, the bulk of the scoring chances were still coming at the other end, and ultimately that made the difference as Dadonov grabbed his third goal in three games to give SKA the initiative.
The action continues Friday in St. Petersburg, with the home side looking for the chance to go back to Magnitogorsk in a position to wrap up the series and claim its second cup.