(Ak Bars leads the series 3-1)
Ak Bars moved to within a game of avenging last season’s Conference Final loss to Metallurg, turning on the style to down its old rival in it’s own building once again. Sublime skills from Alexander Burmistrov, another point from Justin Azevedo and an assist from former Magnitka man Danis Zaripov overcame two goals from Jan Kovar. Ak Bars claimed a victory that puts Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s team 3-1 up in the series.
Ak Bars opened up with a highlight-reel contribution from Burmistrov as Alexei Potapov got the first goal. Burmistrov, who returned from a spell at Vancouver Canucks midway through the season, produced some dazzling skills to rip through the Magnitka defense. First, a lovely drag through his own legs left Nikita Pivtsakin tied up in knots. Next, a sublime no-look pass from behind the net enabled Artyom Lukoyanov to set up Potapov for the finish. It’s play that’s likely to get heavy rotation on the end-of-season highlight compilations.
Metallurg did not take long to respond, with Kovar grabbing his first goal of the game. Atte Ohtamaa coughed up the puck behind his own net, and Wojtek Wolski fed the Czech on the right-hand play-off spot. Kovar’s shot caught Emil Garipov off guard and the scores were level. Tied at one going into the first intermission, the game remained finely-balanced in the middle frame.
Gradully, though, Ak Bars took control. Zaripov twice tested Ilya Samsonov in the Metallurg net as the pressure intensified and when the visitor got a power play chance it regained its lead. Ohtamaa and Azevedo had already created one dangerous moment on the PP, and when they combined again, Jiri Sekac finished off the play. Yet after all that pressure, Metallurg finished the period with a power play of its own and the Mozyakin-Kovar-Wolski combination repeatedly tested Garipov as the session came to an end.
However, at the start of the third period, an error from Samsonov cost Metallurg dear. There wasn’t all that much danger when Stanislav Galiyev exchanged passes with Zaripov in centre ice and looked for a shooting lane; his backhanded shot lacked venom and Samsonov had a good view of the moment of release. But the forward got lucky: his effort bounced off the glove and into the net, handing Ak Bars a game-winning – and perhaps series-winning – advantage.
For much of the rest of the game, Ak Bars kept the host at bay. However, a late power play gave Metallurg one last chance to make a game of it, and the home team obliged as Wolski and Kovar combined once again. This time it was a dot-to-dot feed from Wolski, with Kovar firing home a one-timer from the left-hand spot to make it a one-goal game with four-and-a-half minutes to play.
However, there was no time to stage a dramatic recovery: Matt Ellison got a shot in on goal, Sergei Mozyakin was denied by a Garipov glove save and Ak Bars ran the clock down to take a commanding 3-1 lead into Friday’s home game.