Kuryanov’s fateful faceoff, Stepanek’s tragedy, and Dynamo Moscow’s second Gagarin Cup. KHL.ru remembers the most heartbreaking playoffs series decided in OT.
Today, it’s almost the norm to think that Anton Kuryanov clearly lost the most fateful faceoff of his career. He lost the duel to Niko Kapanen, who sent the puck back to Andrei Pervyshin, who assisted the hero of the night Ilya Nikulin. However, as told by the same Kuryanov – who now is an assistant coach for Avangard Omsk – he actually won the faceoff, but he sent the puck forwards. This decision put an end to the Hawks’ playoff rush.
Ten years later, Igor Nikitin’s decision to take a time out after Zinetula Bilyaletdinov looks like a mistake. In any case, Ak Bars took the game to OT, that lasted only 128 seconds. The ever-young Oleg Petrov deflected a shot by Alexey Badyukov – still playing and not yet working as a TV analyst – paving the way for Ak Bars’ first-ever Gagarin Cup.
The clash between the rich team from St. Petersburg and the distinctive Moscow Region franchise was so exciting that it could be defined both as a heroic and sensational series. And naturally, an OT end to the seventh game made it only even more memorable. The home team, who just lost two games in a row, were ready to take the series back. Maxim Rybin, who captained Spartak Moscow under head coach Milos Riha, scored a double against his old coach. Assisted twice by Sergei Brylin, he scored two go-ahead goals for the Neva Army, but it wasn’t enough.
Just like in the series between Ak Bars and Avangard, the most memorable goal of the night was the one that sent the game to OT. The terrible mistake by Jakub Stepanek, who sent the puck directly to Atlant’s Alexander Nesterov. After Nesterov’s goal, Dmitry Bykov scored in OT to silence the St. Petersburg’s famed arena. Only four years later, his namesake will gift SKA the much-awaited trophy.
Two years in a row Daniil Markov lost in the playoffs to teams led by Milos Riha. First to Spartak when playing for Dynamo, then to Atlant in the series above against SKA. The veteran defenseman clearly held a symbolic grudge against the Czech famed coach. However, in the third year, Barys Astana was waiting for Markov in the playoffs first round. The 36-year-old former NHL defenseman scored in the second and fourth games of the series, but Magnitka lost both times. With the clash on an uncomfortable 1:3 score, the game went OT.
Once cornered, the team led by Fyodor Kanareikin managed to salve itself. Including in the seventh game, when a goal scored by Daniil Markov stopped meaning bad luck for Magnitogorsk. The veteran defeated Vitaly Yeremeyev with a blistering shot at the second minute in OT. Among the game seven’s goal-scorers we can find Sergei Mozyakin, who was yet to become a living legend for Metallurg.
In the KHL history, four series ended in OT in the deciding game (being it the seventh or the fifth game). The most recent case happened only last year. Salavat Yulaev and Avangard had an incredible series, which at the start didn’t look like a playoff battle because of the high number of goals scored. Then, German Titov and Erkka Westerlund calmed down their players, who played more conservatively.
The seventh game was a quality epilogue to the series. When Teemu Hartikainen scored the go-ahead goal for Ufa with only two minutes to go, it looked like it was game over for Omsk. However, one minute later, the Finn forward was lightheartedly caught in foul play, while Grigory Panin picked up a penalty for delay of game. Avangard pulled its goalie, and Maxim Chudinov saved the game for them. According to most of the unwritten hockey laws, the Hawks should have won the game in OT, but Maxim Goncharov broke the hearts of the Omsk fans scoring his first and only 2018 playoffs goal.
Of course, not only the games decided at the seventh attempt are full of drama. Losing in OT is called sudden death for a reason, and not many can actually survive to it – in a hockey sense, that is – especially when we are talking about the Gagarin Cup finals. Traktor, at their first-ever finals, went back to its home in Chelyabinsk being down in the series 2:3. At home, in front of their fans, the team led by Valery Belousov had already defeated Dynamo, so why not repeat the feat?
The Black-and-whites went ahead already in the first period, and in the third stanza, when they needed to get back, the well-established one-two punch of Kostitsyn and Kontiola – who become heroes after Traktor defeated Ak Bars – sent the game to OT. In the extra period, both teams managed to enjoy a man advantage, but neither Dynamo’s too many men on the ice penalty, nor Evgeny Kuznetsov’s foul set the fate of the game. Oleg Znarok’s team could lift the cup after a classic goal by Alexei Tsvetkov.
This series was another clash that didn’t end at the seventh game but had enough drama to fall in the ranking. In 2014 March, Russia had already lost the home Olympic games, and Zinetula Bilyaletdinov had just got back to Kazan, but only as the general manager. The team’s head coach was his assistant Valery Belov. He had at his disposal a good roster and a well-oiled system, but it wasn’t enough to get past the first-round barrier.
On the verge of an early playoff exit, the reigning Gagarin Cup champions get back on track thanks to their most experienced players. In the second period of the sixth game, the veterans Evgeny Medvedev and Alexander Svitov increased Ak Bars’ advantage. And this meant that Sibir’s comeback was even more glorious. Dmitry Kugryshev and Alexander Kutuzov equaled Ak Bars’ task in the second stanza, and in the second OT period, Stepan Sannikov scored from the slot to gift Sibir its first win in a Gagarin Cup series.