(Traktor leads the series 1-0)
The match-up between Traktor and Neftekhimik always looked likely to be tight. The teams were separated by a mere two points in the regular season table, and their most recent meeting had ended in a tight 4-3 verdict for Neftekhimik.
The opening game of this Eastern Conference playoff series repeated that scoreline but needed overtime to separate the pair. Vitaly Kravtsov snatched the overtime winner for Traktor, something that will not have gone unnoticed as this draft-ready 18-year-old gets his second taste of KHL playoff action.
Kravtsov’s big moment came eight minutes into the extras when he took an Igor Polygalov feed and fired home from the base of the right-hand circle. Alexei Kruchinin made a nuisance of himself in front of Ilya Ezhov, unsighting the Neftekhimik goalie, and Traktor had its game-winner.
That was rough justice for the visitor, though. After a rocky start, which saw Traktor jump to a 2-0 lead on markers from Kruchinin and Nick Bailen in the first nine minutes, Neftekhimik hit back. Pavel Kulikov quickly reduced the deficit and the game proceeded with chances at both ends. Even after Linus Videll made it 3-1 with 10 minutes to play, Neftekhimik did not give up. Andrej Nestrasil quickly found himself in place to convert the rebound from a Dennis Everberg shot to make it 2-3, and Ildar Shiksatdarov produced a fine individual effort to tie the game with six minutes left. Shiksatdarov, one of the rising stars of Tatar hockey, collected the rebound from his own shot and brought it out from behind the net before reaching the deep slot and swivelling to fire in the 3-3 goal.
In overtime, Neftekhimik had its chances to win it: Everberg twice went close, and his fellow Swede Richard Gynge kept Pavel Francouz busy in the home net. But it was Kravtsov who came away with the plaudits for his winning goal.