The Eastern Conference semi-finals got underway with both of the seeded teams suffering losses on home ice. Barys went down 3-1 at home to Avangard, while a solitary goal separated Salavat Yulaev and Avtomobilist in Yekaterinburg.
(Avangard leads the series 1-0)
These two teams had contrasting paths to the semi-final. Barys went all the way to game seven against Torpedo while Avangard enjoyed an 11-day rest after sweeping Ak Bars in round one. The first question was about the extent to which Bob Hartley’s players would have retained game sharpness during that lay-out; the second concerned Barys’ recovery after a gruelling battle to the last.
Neither coach made major changes; Hartley selected David Desharnais in place of Max Talbot on the fourth line, Andrei Skabelka swapped Dmitry Shevchenko and Nikita Mikhailis within the home roster. And it quickly became clear that a rested Avangard was in good shape to tackle its latest challenge. The first period went absolutely the way of the visitor: 15-3 on shots, five minutes on offense to three in its own zone and, most importantly, two unanswered goals. Kirill Petrov got the first, in the 13th minute, scoring on the wraparound after the home defense went AWOL and left a huge gap around Henrik Karlsson’s net. A power play effort doubled the lead: Sergei Shumakov kept the puck in the Barys zone and set up a spot of tic-tac-toe with Taylor Beck and finally Ilya Mikheyev to unpick the Kazakhs’ rearguard once again.
Skabelka made changes in the first intermission. After taking 16 minutes of penalties in the first frame – and briefly allowing Avangard a 5-on-3 situation – the home team cleaned up its act after the intermission. Avangard continued to fire in more shots but the visitor was unable to assert the same territorial dominance it enjoyed in the opening session.
All of which was the precursor to Barys getting firmly back into the game at the start of the third. Jesse Blacker’s clearance caught Avangard as it changed on the fly; flat footed by fears of a too many men call, the visiting defense froze and Mikhailis stole the puck and headed into the danger zone before setting up Andre Petersson to make it 1-2. Appeals for a penalty were swiftly forgotten amid the celebrations of a vital goal. However, it was almost Petersson’s final contribution: the Swede took a knock midway through the third period and did not return to the game.
His loss slowed the host’s attempts to unleash a final storm on the Avangard net. Instead, Sergei Shirokov scored into an empty net at the other end to give the Hawks a winning start to this series.
Bob Hartley, head coach, Avangard
This was a really good road game for us. In the last six days we worked on our speed, our physicality. Despite that, we have to give credit to Barys – we spent plenty of time in our own zone. The first period was great for us. Thanks to those goals from Petrov and Mikheyev, and also thanks to our penalty kill, all those blocked shots and a great performance from [goalie] Igor Bobkov we got the result we wanted. There’s a terrific atmosphere in this arena, it’s always a pleasure to come and play here. Barys is a good, skilled team and that makes it twice as satisfying to get the win.
Andrei Skabelka, head coach, Barys
It was a good game but we found it hard to get into it. I wouldn’t say that was entirely down to the opposition. We took four penalties in the first period and that made it tough for us to get started. We put that right in the second and third periods, we managed to get up to speed. We spent plenty of time on offense, we had some good chances to score. We can take that into the next game and I think we will be stronger than today. (Media team, HC Barys)
(Salavat Yulaev leads the series 1-0)
Recent history suggested that Avtomobilist’s first experience of a Conference semi-final would be a tight affair. Two meetings this season between these teams had yielded just three goals, with Avto collecting the wins on both occasions. Today, once again, it was tight, but this time it Salavat Yulaev that took the verdict thanks to a solitary goal from Joonas Kemppainen.
Ufa was, of course, heavily indebted to Kemppainen’s fellow Finn, goalie Juha Metsola. He stopped 34 shots and even kept Avtomobilist at bay when the home team enjoyed 83 seconds of 5-on-3 play midway through the second period. That resolute PK was in stark contrast to the visitor’s goal, scored on a 5-on-3 power play of its own a few minutes earlier. Linus Omark flashed a one-timer off a Philip Larsen feed, his effort so wild it was unclear whether the Swede’s intention was to pass or shoot. Kempainen, though, was perfectly placed to extend a stick and turn Omark’s play into an immaculate pass. That was the first time Salavat Yulaev had scored on Avtomobilist this season – in regular season play the Eastern Conference leader had twice blanked its rival from Ufa.
Much of the second period was evenly matched, but Avtomobilist stepped up the pace in the final session. Ufa was left hanging on, with Metsola in fine form to deny a home offense that was missing the suspended Stephane Da Costa but boosted by the return of fit-again Francis Pare. However, as the pressure grew there was a let-off for the visitor when Denis Bodrov’s check to the head of Vladimir Tkachyov gave Salavat Yulaev a power play and a chance to slow the Motormen’s momentum. There was still time for one more big save from Metsola, getting a pad down to deny Anatoly Golyshev after an incisive home attack, but the home team was running out of time and finished on the losing side at the start of this series.
Andrei Martemyanov, head coach, Avtomobilist
It was a good game between two well-matched teams. Both goalies were excellent. They played at a very high level, like you’d expect in a playoff game.
Did your team lack creativity?
Maybe, on the contrary, we tried to be too creative. Perhaps we should have looked for a simpler game. In the third period we were pressuring Juha Metsola from all angles and it was obvious that he was tiring, he was starting to make mistakes. We needed to do that throughout the game but we slightly overplayed things on offense. There were times when we had chances to shoot but looked for another pass instead.
Nikolai Tsygulin, head coach, Salavat Yulaev
It was a good, competitive game between evenly-matched teams. Now we need to get ready for the next one.
Was it important to slow down the pace of the game in the first period?
Not really, no. We love playing on the front foot, it’s fine for us. We played and enjoyed our offense, just like the opposition did. But you saw yourself in the second period how both teams traded penalties and everything got disrupted. Everything started to change then.