(Series tied at 2-2)
Vitaly Kravtsov picked up two more assists in Wednesday’s game, taking his post-season tally to 11 (6+5) and becoming the most productive junior in KHL playoff history.
The 18-year-old Traktor star, who has been among the points in each of his last five games, overtook two other former Chelyabinsk prospects with his performance in this Conference Semi-Final success against Salavat Yulaev. Previously the record was shared by Evgeny Kuznetsov (7+2 as a 19-year-old in 2012) and Valery Nichushkin (6+3 as a 17-year-old in 2013). In all Russian playoffs, Kravtsov overtook Alexei Yashin’s mark of 10 points, set in 1993. The all-time record was established by Maxim Afinogenov (16 points in 1999); Evgeny Malkin scored 15 in 2006.
But his personal achievement was less important than securing a vital victory to tie up this series after four games. After winning the opening game in Ufa, Traktor had struggled: a third loss would put Salavat Yulaev in an almost unreachable position. Instead, the Chelyabinsk team delivered a strong performance to reassure its home crowd before heading back to Ufa on Friday.
The opening goal came in the ninth minute. Kravtsov fed the puck back to Igor Isayev on the blue line; he shaped to shoot and slipped a pass inside for Nick Bailen to fire through traffic inside the post. However, Salavat Yulaev had the better of the first period and tied the game with nice piece of tic-tac-toe hockey from its productive front line. Linus Omark brought the puck into the danger zone, Joonas Kemppainen produced a killer pass and Teemu Hartikainen brought the finish to send the teams into the intermission at 1-1.
Parity did not last long: Richard Gynge shot Traktor in front again after 11 seconds of the second period. Bailen’s superb pass from his own zone sent Gynge beyond the last defenseman; his shot got through Ben Scrivens’ pads and once again Salavat Yulaev was caught cold early in a period. Kravtsov’s second assist came in the 35th minute when he sent the puck back to the point for Ivan Vishnevsky. The defenseman unleashed a shot and Alexander Sharov got the key touch to beat Scrivens. Sharov, who ended a long scoring drought in yesterday’s game, potted his second in successive outings.
Salavat Yulaev continued to create chances – and finished well ahead on the shot count – but its hopes of getting anything from the game were ended midway through the final frame. Quick thinking from goalie Vasily Demchenko returned the puck to a dangerous position after the visitor’s penalty kill thumped it up the ice; Nick Bailen took the pass into the zone and fed Artyom Borodkin for a backhanded finish between the hash marks. Former Dinamo Minsk blue-liner Bailen finished the game with 1+2, and moves on to six points for this year’s playoffs. Traktor moves on to a return trip to Bashkiria with everything to play for.