(Avangard leads the series 1-0)
Avangard claimed an overtime verdict as the Eastern Conference final opened with an absorbing encounter in Balashikha.
Seeing this game into overtime should have been no surprise: the teams met four times in the regular season, with two of them going beyond the standard 60 minutes. In October, Avangard won 1-0 in Ufa on an overtime goal; in January, Bob Hartley’s men prevailed at home in a shoot-out after a 4-4 tie. This game was closer in spirit to the second encounter as the teams shared six goals before Sergei Shumakov grabbed the winner after four minutes of play.
It was a home power play that made the difference. Salavat Yulaev came into the game with the best penalty kill of the four teams still contesting this year’s Gagarin Cup but even its 88.2% success couldn’t save it after Artyom Sergeyev was given a minor for delaying the game. Shumakov tested Juha Metsola in the visitor’s net with a wrister to the far corner but the Finnish goalie was hopelessly exposed just seconds later when Taylor Beck slipped the puck out to the left for Shumakov, who controlled it with his skate before firing into the open side as Metsola struggled to get back across. The Salavat Yulaev bench called for a review, citing goalie interference, but the officials were unmoved and the game was won.
It was fitting that Shumakov and Beck were involved in the winning goal. The pair have been mainstays of Avangard’s postseason progress to date and Beck, in particular, played a big role in today’s game. The Canadian opened the scoring midway through the first period with the home team enjoying a 5-on-3 power play. Grigory Panin and Alexei Semenov were sitting in the bin when Beck’s wired a wristerfrom the edge of the circle. Shumakov joined Cody Franson among the helpers, Viktor Stalberg’s screen in front of Metsola left the Ufa goalie with no view. Beck has now picked up a point in each of his last nine games; his productive streak is currently worth 16 (3+13) points after he added two more helpers in this game.
If Beck has been a scoring sensation for Avangard in these playoffs, the Ufa top line has also been in blistering form – and that supplied the tying goal early in the second period. The teams were playing four on four, Linus Omark sent Teemu Hartikainen into the home zone and the Finnish forward surged round the back of the net before picking out defenseman Zakhar Arzamastsev at the back door for a close-range finish. The home riposte took barely a minute: David Desharnais won a face off in the Salavat Yulaev zone and Ville Pokka’s shot from out by the boards flashed past the on-going tussle around the dot and went over Metsola’s shoulder.
That set the scene for a second period in which Avangard had the better of the play – and Maxim Chudinov attempted another trademark effort from his own blue line, only to find Metsola alert to the trick. But the home team could not preserve its lead until the intermission. A counter attack from nothing sent Pyotr Khokhryakov through on Igor Bobkov for the tying goal.
At the start of the third period the visitor began to pose more of an offensive threat. Pavel Koledov saw a good opportunity go begging when he failed to get his shot on target but in the 47th minute Joonas Kemppainen gave Salavat Yulaev the lead for the first time in the game. Hartikainen was the architect, surging forward from deep in his own territory and keeping the play alive despite being steered away from a shooting chance by Desharnais’ back checking. The Finnish pair continued its profitable partnership: Hartikainen with the pull back from the goal-line, Kemppainen rifling home from the slot.
It took less than six minutes for Avangard to respond. Beck chased the puck into the corner and fed Desharnais who rushed the net. Stalberg was on hand to redirect the Canadian’s shot and level the scores, sending the game into overtime.
Bob Hartley, head coach, Avangard
In games like this it’s kind of sad that one game gets to be down by a goal. That’s probably the best hockey game I’ve seen in the KHL this year. There were two teams going at it and we saw that the lines are very fine between winning and losing in a big game. They played a great game but we managed to shoot the puck into the net off our power play to get the win. If it wouldn’t be for our power play we’d probably still be playing right now.
These are two teams that match very well against each other and I think it’s going to be a great playoff series. I’ve said before that Salavat Yulaev is a team without a weakness and I’m very proud of our guys. We had great team effort, great character, we were down 3-2 and tied it late in the third period and win it in overtime. It’s so important that we now get rest and reset for game two.
How can you compare the performance of the teams’ top lines?
They did great. You probably have two of the best lines in the playoffs so far. If you look at each round so far Kemppainen’s line has been very good and Desharnais’ line has been very good. Desharnais’ lines scored goals, Kemppainen got a goal in 5-on-5. It’s two lines with great hockey players. We’re down to four teams. Ufa did lots of great things in the first two rounds to earn the right to be us and so did we. We beat the current champs and the division champs, we’re not here by luck, both of us have great teams. I think that the fans will see an unbelievable round on our side and on the other side it’s CSKA vs SKA – it doesn’t get better than this.
Nikolai Tsulygin, head coach, Salavat Yulaev
The players went out and battled from start to finish. I’ve no complaints about that.
Were you disappointed not to get a chance on the power play?
The opponent, apparently, didn’t give the officials any reason to give them penalties.
Was there interference on Juha Metsola for the winning goal?
We believe that there was. We made a challenge, they had another look, but they decided that there wasn’t. Now we’ll regroup and see what we can take from this.