(Salavat Yulaev wins the series 4-3)
An overtime winner from Maxim Goncharov finally settled this battle between two of the powerhouses of the Eastern Conference – and Salavat Yulaev moves on to face Traktor in the conference semi-finals.
The defenseman struck in the 13th minute of the extras, shooting home from the top of the right-hand circle after Enver Lisin went around the back and fed the puck into the danger zone. But the overtime verdict was hard won for the home team: Salavat Yulaev began the extras with a penalty to kill, the legacy of seeing the team reduced to three men in the last minute of regulation before Avangard snatched a late leveller. And the visitor was more threatening in the early overtime exchanges, with Maxim Berezin and Andre Petersson testing Ben Scrivens.
The flurry of late excitement wasn’t entirely in keeping with the start of the game. When it gets to game seven in any series, it’s time for caution. Salavat Yulaev and Avangard had traded goals with abandon for the previous six games, but tonight everything clammed up for two periods. Concentration levels reached new heights, the fear of making a decisive, season-ending error outweighed the desire to attempt the audacious, game-breaking play. Discipline was the watchword – it was not until the 54th minute that we saw the first penalty of the game, when Avangard’s Ansel Galimov found himself in the box for interference.
Galimov’s indiscretion did not prove costly: Avangard killed the penalty fairly comfortably, a couple of shots from Anton Burdasov notwithstanding. But shortly after the teams were back at full strength – and seemingly coasting towards overtime – the home team thought it had settled the issue. Teemu Hartikainen, who began the series with five points in his team’s 6-4 victory in game one, returned to put Salavat Yulaev up late in this game. The Finn beat Yegor Martynov to the rebound after Grigory Panin’s point shot was saved by Dominik Furch, and his close-range finish sent the home crowd into ecstasy. There were 130 seconds left to play and the job was all but done.
That wasn’t the end of the drama, though. Hartikainen followed his goal with a penalty; Furch headed to the bench and Avangard went 6-on-4 for the final minute. Then Panin took a delaying the game penalty five seconds later, and the three remaining Salavat Yulaev players were unable to hold on. Maxim Chudinov weaved his point shot through traffic, beating Ben Scrivens and tying the game at 2-2 with 17 seconds left on the clock. Chudinov, a double Gagarin Cup-winner with SKA, has wasted little time writing himself into the playoff folklore of his current employer.
It was a breathless finish to regulation time in a game that was something of a slow burner. Avangard made the brighter start of the two teams, determined to make the most of season-saving victory on Monday, and got in front midway through the first period. Ilya Mikheyev’s slaloming rush to the net was not successful, but the puck was only scrambled away as far as Semyon Koshelev who duly potted the opening goal.
Salavat Yulaev responded in the second period with a fine goal. Panin started the play on his own goalline, and sent a pass straight up the ice to Dmitry Sayustov. The former Admiral man deftly played in Burdasov and the forward scored against his former club for the second time in the series. Now Burdasov and colleagues have the chance to produce further post-season scoring; for Avangard, and recently-appointed head coach German Titov, the post mortem begins here after a season that promised much at times came to a frustrating end.