The regular season has just ended, and thus we can proceed with the analysis. The first half of the season wasn’t easy for Magnitka: we lost a few games that we should have won instead. Then, due to participating in the Spengler Cup in Switzerland, our schedule was even more hectic. We literally played games one after the other. However, the guys managed to keep up with the pace. Moreover, closer to the end of the regular season we managed to compensate for the lost points and climbed up to the third place in the standings. Being the third seed gives us the chance to start the series against Salavat Yulaev with the home rink advantage.
This chance is a quite important one. The team just got back home from a long road trip, fighting until the very last game to finish the regular season in the best possible place. Now we have a couple of days off to relax and prepare to the playoff. If we had to fly somewhere soon, it would add some extra difficulties even more so if considering that our opponents had enough time to rest as they played their last regular-season game on February 20. If that’s not enough, Salavat Yulaev had little to do in these games, and they decided to rest most of their leaders.
This season, we faced Salavat Yulaev only twice as they come from a different division. I can’t say that I know them to the littlest detail. Thus, all the time before the start of the postseason will be dedicated to studying the opposition. I’m sure that it will be the same for Salavat Yulaev. For now, I can only say good things about their first line, especially Linus Omark. That unit is very dangerous: the players have enough experience, they play together for a long time, and they showed that they can score. We need to shut down this line.
In any case, Salavat Yulaev has many quality players. Their goalie, Juha Metsola, posted incredible stats. Among defensemen, Philip Larsen and Grigory Panin scored a lot. Forward Burdasov scored 19 goals, and I think that the Burmistrov for Osnovin trade translated into success for Ufa.
Coaches often say that in the playoff, winning on talent alone is not possible. It’s also a matter of commitment and winning attitude. In my career, many times those qualities allowed us to defeat more-decorated teams and go on. I can say even more: an experienced coach can understand what fate is waiting for his team based on his team’s approach and locker room environment. Another thing is that he’d never admit it out loud. I won’t break this tradition, but I’ll say that I believe in my team.
Considering the time remaining before the start of the playoff, it will be hard to achieve much. We gave the players a little rest so that they can get a quality recovery and tune in toward the hard matches that are in front of us. In this sense, the coaches have a big load on their shoulders. For the second day in a row, my colleagues and I are sitting at the arena in the coaches’ room, preparing for the upcoming battle. We don’t expect to see the light anytime soon.
However, all the work in Metallurg’s coaching staff is clearly divided, and it helps. Viktor Kozlov is responsible for the powerplay. Also, he’s outstanding in working with videos and preparing detailed analysis of the opponents. Jiri Kalous is accountable for the game in penalty killing, and in general for the defensive side of our game. Such an organization allows for a lot of hard working when the time is an issue. Another thing is important: do not overload players with unnecessary information. Sometimes the coaches start pushing the gas, filling the players’ heads with a lot of useless stuff. This goes only to the detriment of the team.
However, all the necessary things have been said and the tactics has been set. During the playoff, the space for maneuver is narrow. Of course, the coach has the responsibility of maintaining a good atmosphere on the bench and in the locker room, other than directing the team during the game itself. However, the main responsibilities for the outcome of the series fall on the players. They should embody on the ice our ideas and thoughts. Coaches can only try to help the players – and worry. This is the curse of our job.