(Traktor wins the series 4-3)
Traktor advances to the Eastern Conference final after edging Salavat Yulaev 2-1 in this game seven showdown in Ufa. The Chelyabinsk team got the verdict despite falling behind, with goals from Swedish duo Richard Gynge and Linus Videll turning the game around and setting up a match-up against Ak Bars as the race for the Gagarin Cup draws ever closer to its conclusion.
There was another big performance from goalie Pavel Francouz, who made 35 saves in the game. The Czech international sat out games four and five of this series after Salavat Yulaev moved in front early on. But he returned for Sunday’s 7-1 victory in Chelyabinsk and kept his place in Tuesday’s decider, where his experience proved invaluable in such a tight game.
Initially, though, the home team looked to be on the right track to win its second game seven this year. Salavat Yulaev, placed second in the conference in regular season, already had a taste of a winner-takes-all showdown in the previous round against Avangard. Moreover, the Ufa team had the incentive of setting up another playoff showdown against Ak Bars, setting up another edition of the fabled ‘Green Derby’ that so inspires both clubs. So, for big-game players like Linus Omark, the stage was set … and he did not disappoint. Thirteen minutes into the first period, the Swedish international produced one of the goals of this season’s playoffs. He began by collecting the puck deep in his own zone after Artyom Penkovsky got caught in possession. Then he was off, burning past Artyom Borodkin in centre ice before tying Konstantin Klimontov in knots and firing a shot past Francouz. A big goal for a big occasion, but not enough to win it this time.
That’s because Traktor’s own Swedes found the answer. The home team had enjoyed the better of the opening period, but the visitor tied the game in the 19th minute. Gynge got the goal, but it was all about Nick Bailen’s assist. The defenseman produced something that looked suspiciously like a no-look pass from blue line to blue line to release Gynge; the Swede won his duel with Ben Scrivens and Salavat’s claims of offside proved to be unfounded.
The game-winner came late in the middle frame. Grigory Panin was sitting it out in the box as Traktor found the way to goal; Gynge produced a fine pass to bypass Philip Larsen on the slot and find Videll at the back door; Scrivens had no chance and the team from ‘Tankograd’ had a precious lead.
Salavat Yulaev threw everything into the final frame, with Traktor pinned into its own zone for long periods. However, the visitor produced a highly disciplined display, staying out of the box and working hard to keep Erkka Westerlund’s team at arm’s length. There were still chances: Francouz denied Omark on three occasions as the Hartikainen-Kemppainen-Omark axis provided a constant threat. But the host’s efforts fell short; Traktor clinched the game and the series – and now claims an unusual record. The Chelyabinsk team is the only one never to have lost a game seven encounter in the KHL.
The Gagarin Cup race is now down to four teams: SKA and CSKA in the West, Ak Bars and Traktor in the East. In Petersburg, meanwhile, four teams in total have reached the last four of the leading Russian competitions: SKA in the KHL, SKA-1946 in the MHL youth league, and Dynamo and SKA-Neva in the second-tier VHL.