A Dinar Khafizullin double helped SKA to a 3-2 win over Metallurg in Game 4 of the Gagarin Cup final, and now the action moves back to Magnitogorsk with the Petersburg men enjoying a 3-1 lead in the series. When the emotions had subsided after Friday’s dramatic contest, SKA’s Andrei Zubarev, Dinar Khafizullin and Alexander Dergachyov shared their thoughts on the night’s events.
Knowing full well that defeat in this fourth match would leave them on the brink of losing the final series, the reigning champions made a flying start. Having been notably subdued in previous first periods, this time Viktor Antipin stunned the hosts with a goal after only 27 seconds. The rest of the opening 20 minutes were a little more familiar: once again, SKA reached the interval boasting a vast superiority in the shot count (21-3), and again, their efforts came to nothing, thanks in no small part to Vasily Koshechkin’s continued heroics in the Magnitogorsk goal.
SKA was rewarded for its dominance early in the second period. Vadim Shipachyov’s shot from distance was parried by Koshechkin, and Dinar Khafizullin tapped in the rebound. The men from the Steel City are nothing if not durable, however, and a little over five minutes before the second interval, Oscar Osala burst down the flanks, bore down on goal and tucked his shot past Mikko Koskinen in the SKA net.
The Army Men emerged for the third period eager to show their own fighting spirit, and within 90 seconds of the restart they had pulled level. Andrei Zubarev grabbed his second goal in as many games, winning a race for a loose puck and striking the shot with such force that he broke his stick in the process. This was followed by an exhilarating spell of offensive hockey from both teams, each searching for the game-winner. The moment of truth arrived with a powerplay goal in the 53rd minute, with Khafizullin tucking away another rebound to capitalize on Danis Zaripov’s banishment to the penalty box for interference.
SKA defenseman Andrei Zubarev:
- What has happened to you, lately? You’ve become a sniper, a goalscorer.
- Yes, it seems my new sticks have arrived (smiles). Seriously, the team has been creating many chances, and I failed to convert quite a few of them this season. Maybe God looked kindly on us and thought He’d let me score a couple.
- You were practicing shootouts during the morning skate. Did you have a premonition of some kind?
- That’d be a strange premonition, as there are no shootouts in the playoffs. No, it was just to loosen our limbs.
- To what extent did Magnitka’s early goal disrupt the SKA game plan?
- It was unexpected, of course, but at the same time it stung the team into action and injected more cohesion in our play. Still, to start a game at 0-1 down, and fight back to beat such a great team is a huge task.
- In this match, only the defensemen scored for SKA...
- We are a team, so it doesn't matter – not even if it’s the goaltender getting the goals. What matters most is the win. No-one pays attention to the statistics, especially in the playoffs.
Each game is crucial, and for each game you have a specific mission. You saw for yourself that one incident can swing the game wildly one way or the other. It’s a waste of time trying to guess what will happen. You have to do all you can to win in every game you play
- You now have a 3-1 lead in the series. Do you feel that victory is near?
- You get that feeling after the fourth win, God willing.
- What is your take on SKA’s third goal?
- Did we score a third? I wouldn’t know. I was one the bench having a rest, and not looking at the hockey (smiles).
- How tough will the next game in Magnitogorsk be?
- Each game is crucial, and for each game you have a specific mission. You saw for yourself that one incident can swing the game wildly one way or the other. It’s a waste of time trying to guess what will happen. You have to do all you can to win in every game you play.
- You have a swollen lip – is that a present from Mr. Timkin?
- Yes, they’re hitting me as if I were one of the team’s leaders, and I have no idea why. Anyway, it’s a trial of strength, and good on him! He’s doing his job and he’s always been a tough opponent, especially in the playoffs. By the way, I must have shed a lot of weight, as I seem to be falling over all the time.
- When was the last time you broke your stick while shooting at goal?
- I wouldn't know. I’d never taken a shot at goal before.
SKA defenseman Dinar Khafizullin:
- Dinar, is attack the best form of defense?
- It turned out that way today. Their goalie was great, of course, and we had to play out of our skins to score against him.
- Were there any signs, omens, or dreams before the game? How come you suddenly score a double?
- No, nothing unusual; it was just my lucky day.
- Did the coaches tell you to get into the slot more often?
- Honestly, I can't answer that. I got there, and I scored from a couple of rebounds. It was just luck.
I think we play even better after we fall behind. I don't know why this happens. Don't tell anyone. The protests after the third goal? The puck struck the goalie’s helmet. It rebounded to me and I shot straight away.
- Why did the Magnitogorsk players protest about the third goal?
- The puck struck the goalie’s helmet, but the rules say you can finish off the move. The puck rebounded to me and I shot straight away.
- In addition to this victory, did your fellow defenseman, Yegor Rykov, get anything for his birthday?
- The win is enough. What more could anyone wish for (smiles)?
- Did the first goal sting the team into action?
- Yes, I think we play even better after we fall behind. I don't know why this happens. Don't tell anyone (smiles).
- Tell us the secret, what is the antidote to the Kovar line?
- We have these guys, defensemen, who play very well against forwards.
SKA forward Alexander Dergachyov:
- Was this game the most decisive one in the series?
- It was one of them. The final victory will be the decisive one.
- Magnitogorsk managed to hit you with a very early goal...
- To be honest, I was still getting settled and collecting my thoughts when – bang! – they had scored. I didn’t even see the move which led to the goal. That really helped me to focus (smiles).
- Did you change tactics?
- No. It was the first shift and confusion reigned for a few moments, but for the rest of the match we stuck to our game plan.
- How different was this match from the one before?
- Not especially different. The Metallurg guys play hockey their way, so all these games can be mapped out. Maybe they will surprise us in the next match. As for me, I always try to stay on the offensive and shoot more often.
- Evgeny Timkin seems in traditionally combative mood. Are you ready to play the role of enforcer, if needed?
- The whole team is ready!