(Ak Bars wins the series 4-1)
Ak Bars wrapped up its Eastern Conference Semi-Final series against Metallurg in five games, avenging last year’s playoff loss against the same opponent and moving into its sixth conference final in 10 seasons.
It’s an enviably consistent record, and it was never in serious jeopardy as the team brought a 3-1 series lead to Kazan and wasted little time in asserting itself in this game.
Ak Bars could hardly have wished for a better start. After 25 seconds, the home team was on the power play; after 51 seconds, it was in front. Ak Bars won a face-off in the Metallurg zone and, after a scrummage, Danis Zaripov fed the puck back to Andrei Markov at the point. Rather than bang in a shot, Markov fed Vladimir Tkachyov and he circled around the zone before firing to the top shelf from a tight angle.
It quickly got even better: in the fifth minute Ak Bars went 2-0 up through Yaroslav Kosov. Albert Yarullin’s point shot started the play, Rob Klinkhammer steered the puck back into the centre and Kosov lifted it over Vasily Koshechkin’s shoulder to double the home lead. That’s the second time Kosov has scored against his former club in this series, a step up in production for a typically stay-at-home defenseman.
Metallurg needed to respond fast if it was to stay in the game, and Wojtek Wolski did just that in the seventh minute. Sergei Mozyakin’s inviting pass from the right flank to the left was perfectly placed for Wolski to slide in and shoot a one-timer past Emil Garipov at the far post. And then, after that flurry of scoring, the first period subsided into a cautious affair, with neither side willing to commit too much early on.
The goal of the game went to Jiri Sekac, who produced a stunning coast-to-coast effort as Ak Bars converted another power play early in the second period. The Czech forward saw the ice open up in front of him and went for it, sending Chris Lee the wrong way on the blue line to clear his path to the net and beating Koshechkin to make it 3-1. It all served to reinforce the feeling that this was not going to be Metallurg’s day, and Ak Bars would take its place in the conference final after winning another series in five games.
That was how it all played out. Metallurg finished the game well ahead of the shot count, but struggling to create really good looks at Garipov’s net. Even the decision to pull Koshechkin in the 56th minute had little impact: Magnitka’s surge was disrupted by a penalty for Andrei Chibisov, Ak Bars was able to run down the clock calmly and book its place in the next round. Salavat Yulaev or Traktor awaits, but right now the East’s top team in the regular season looks to be on track to represent the conference in the Gagarin Cup Final next month.