(SKA leads the series 1-0)
A red-hot favorite pushed into overtime by a rank outsider? A game locked at 3-3 until a moment of brilliance produces a golden goal? For Pavel Datsyuk, it might all have felt familiar.
One week ago, Datsyuk, along with 14 SKA team-mates and head coach Oleg Znarok, were in exactly this situation in Korea as Russia edged the victory in its gold medal game against Germany at the Olympics. The experience came in handy, as Severstal produced a battling performance here that made a mockery of pre-game predictions that this was a foregone conclusion for the defending champion.
Datsyuk finally broke the visitor’s resistance in the eighth minute of overtime. SKA was on the power play, Anton Belov saw his shot saved and Nikita Gusev found Datsyuk behind the net. This time, the Magic Man decided it was time to do it himself; bursting out on the wraparound he overcame Julius Hudacek and gave the Petersburg team a hard-fought victory.
That was by no means all the drama. Severstal led for 12 minutes of this game, and refused to bow to Vadim Shipachyov’s late goal. Instead, Oleg Yashin grabbed a last minute equalizer, finishing over Mikko Koskinen’s shoulder after Dmitry Kagarlitsky led a rush into the SKA zone. In the end, that merely delayed SKA’s success – but it provided a stark reminder that Severstal won’t just make up the numbers in this series.
Perhaps it didn’t need to be so complicated for the host, though. The first period saw SKA ease through the gears, and take the lead on its first power play when Ilya Kovalchuk fired home a Patrick Thoresen pass.
But the second session produced a sensation. SKA got tangled up in each other’s skates while emerging from centre ice, and the turnaround saw Kagarlitsky fire home the tying goal. Then Kovalchuk lost the puck in the Severstal zone and Yury Trubachyov got the chance of a breakaway. He ended up behind the net, but forced the puck back to Igor Geraskin. His shot took a deflection off Shipachyov’s stick and flew into the angle of post and crossbar; the video confirmed that it crossed the line on its way and Severstal had a shock lead.
The third period was old enough to make home fans a little anxious before Slava Voynov wound up a fearsome slapshot from the point to beat Hudacek and make it 2-2. When Shipachyov got SKA’s third in the 57th minute, firing home a Kovalchuk feed as a Severstal penalty came to an end, that felt like the game-winner. But the Steelmen had one more card to play before SKA could open up its defense of the Gagarin Cup with a victory.