(Avangard leads the series 3-1)
Ilya Mikheyev made a triumphant return to the Avangard line-up, scoring twice as he stepped in to replace the injured Taylor Beck. Mikheyev, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, had not featured in the playoffs since Avangard’s 2-4 loss at Barys on March 16. He had amassed seven points in six games prior to that, though, and was quickly back on the scoring trail with a second-period double in Ufa.
However, the game also featured a mass brawl on the ice after the hooter, having seen two other skirmishes earlier in an evening of high-octane, committed action in this Eastern Conference final match-up.
After a goalless first period, fans didn’t have long to wait for the opening goal in the second. Salavat Yulaev won a face-off at the Avangard end but Sergei Shumakov robbed Pavel Koledov at the point and went haring up the ice. The visiting forward even had time to recover from a stumble as he closed in on Juha Metsola’s net – he sprang back to his feet so quickly it was almost possible to believe the fall was a deliberate ploy to deceive the goalie – and placed a wrister beyond the Finn.
Then came Mikheyev’s first of the game, a power play tally to double the lead within a couple of minutes of Shumakov’s opener. It was the visitor’s first PP of the night and it was converted when Cody Franson’s diagonal went from blue line to blue line, sending Mikheyev into the danger zone. An unstoppable shot from the top of the circle made it 2-0 to leave Ufa staring down the barrel of a two-goal deficit in the game and a potential two-game deficit in the series.
The response was not long in coming and took the form of a quickfire double salvo at the other end. Teemu Hartikainen – Harti-gol, as he’s becoming known in these playoffs – reduced the deficit with a one-timer off a Joonas Kemppainen feed before an error from Franson on an Avangard power play allowed Pyotr Khokhryakov to sprint off after the puck and tie the scores with a short-handed effort. The recovery came at a price, though: defenseman Grigory Panin was injured in the build-up to Hartkainen’s strike and did not return to the game.
Avangard regained the lead late in the second period with yet another breakaway goal. This time the teams were playing 4-on-4 when Khokhryakov’s shot went wide of the net and swung around the boards before Mikheyev collected it in center ice. Clean through on the net, he calmly approached Metsola and lifted the puck to the top shelf for a composed, clinical finish.
Composure, though, was somewhat lacking as the frame came to an end. Three seconds before the interval, as the officials announced a delayed cross-checking minor for Hartikainen, Ufa’s Artyom Sergeyev picked a fight with Viktor Stalberg. The home D-man was cited as the instigator and took a 10-minute misconduct penalty alongside 5+2 for fighting and roughing. Stalberg also had a major, while Avangard’s Denis Zernov collected a minor tariff for interference. Sergeyev left the ice while revving up the home crowd, but his efforts to lift the atmosphere ahead of a vital third period proved ineffective.
The closing stages were largely dictated by Avangard. The visitor applied a press on Ufa’s play that restricted scoring chances, and enjoyed a two-minute power play after Linus Omark transgressed in the 46th minute. That opportunity was not converted but it ate into the clock and further frustrated Salavat Yulaev’s efforts to get its offense moving. Another penalty late in the frame, this time on Kirill Semyonov, further slowed Ufa’s progress before the luckless Koledov steered a Denis Zernov effort into his own net as Avangard sealed the win and opened a 3-1 lead in the series.
The final seconds brought one more fight after Hartikainen’s attempted redirect on the slot missed the target and tempers flared again. Stalberg was involved once more, trading blows with Alexander Burmistrov, while home goalie Igor Bobkov also picked up a minor for leaving the bench during an altercation. There was more to come when the hooter sounded and both teams piled into a prolonged battle. Avangard’s Mikhail Fisenko and Semyon Koshelev both took major penalties, as did Ufa youngsters Daniil Skorikov and Eduard Gimatov. Alexei Semyonov was identified as the instigator in this instance and was handed a 5+20 tariff that potentially rules him out of the next game.
The action returns to Balashikha on Saturday, where a home win would send Avangard into its first Gagarin Cup final since 2012.
Bob Hartley, head coach, Avangard
Our team gave an excellent response with this performance. We had a meeting and focussed on that first period, we understood that we had to hang tough there. Bobkov played well, Mikheyev returned and he just flew around the rink, Talbot came back. There was a lot of emotion out there, of course, this is a playoff.
What were you discussing with the officials?
It wasn’t just the officials, I had a lot of conversations with the players as well. With the refs, in particular, I was asking why Hartikainen came onto the ice as a sixth player during a break in play. I thought he should have got a penalty for that.
Nikolai Tsulygin, head coach, Salavat Yulaev
We fought and battled, but we allowed some crazy goals that didn’t fit with the patterns of play at all. They came out of nothing: our mistakes, the puck flying round the boards into center ice before we could catch up with it. We couldn’t get it back in the third but I’ve no complaints about the guys. We ended up playing with just four defensemen because Sergeyev had a penalty and Panin was hurt.
There was never any intention to cause a fight [at the end of the game]. Neither team sent out its first line, we just sent our players out for a face-off. What happened, happened. I’m not paying much attention to that, I’m not taking anything from it.