The series was tight and tense since the first game when Avangard won in OT with a 4-3 score thanks to a goal by Sergei Shumakov – one of the top goal scorers of the playoffs so far. Two days later, the Hawks claimed another win, this time with a 4-1 score, thanks to a two-point performance by Taylor Beck and David Desharnais.
Avangard was up by two, but the series had to move to Ufa, and no one was expecting Salavat Yulaev to concede anything to the opponent, even more so while losing. In a packed Ufa Arena, Tsulygin’s band played a great game to defeat Avangard 5-1 in game three. Productive forward Denis Zernov was back for the Hawks and scored, but it wasn’t enough as Salavat Yulaev’s international line was once again unstoppable and produced two goals for Ufa, including the game-winner.
In game four, everyone was expecting Salavat Yulaev to tie things up after the triumph of two days before, but Hawks’ Ilya Mikheyev – just back from his injury – posted a double and Ufa had to surrender to the visitors. However, the Green Jerseys wanted to warn Avangard that they weren’t going to give up just because, and the teams put on a mass brawl only one second to the final horn as emotions stacked up during the game.
In the fifth game, it was do or die for Salavat when the series moved back to Balashikha. Teams exchanged goals during regulation and, after sixty minutes, the game was tied at two. One overtime wasn’t enough to determine a winner, and after nine minutes in the second OT period, Salavat Yulaev’s international line found the game-winner with the tenth playoff goal by Joonas Kemppainen. Earlier, the Nordic unit was on the game sheet again as Philip Larsen assisted Linus Omark for the 2-2 goal midway through the third period.
With the teams back once again in Ufa, it looked like we could have another seven-game series as Ufa had a chance to tie things up after winning two days before. Game six was never short of incredible, and all the Ufa Arena spectators are going to remember and discuss this game for years. Goalies were through the roof, with Igor Bobkov stopping 36 shots and his colleague Juha Metsola getting into action 69 times as the game headed into triple OT for the first time in the Eastern Conference finals history.
Avangard’s players looked fresher, and one of the least awaited players – veteran defenseman Alexei Bondarev – put the puck in the back of the net in the 110th minute of the incredibly-tense contest in Ufa. To make it even more bitter for Ufa and its 8,000+ fans who flooded the gates, it was Bondarev’s first tally in two-and-a-half years.
The team led by Bob Hartley can be satisfied with the series. They defeated an excellent team, key players were back (Mikheyev, Zernov, Medvedev), and they look ready to give a fierce battle to whatever team they will face coming from the West. The Canadian bench boss prepared the team very well, and the Hawks will be a serious menace in the Gagarin Cup finals, where they are back after a seven-year hiatus. In 2012, Avangard lost the finals to Dynamo Moscow, then led by Oleg Znarok.
In Ufa, losing the series after such a game was most likely a heart-breaking moment, but they can also be satisfied. Their international players had an incredible season, especially in the playoffs, and most of them are signed through the next season, except Joonas Kemppainen. However, they will have to work hard to retain some of the other top talents, like Anton Burdasov, Vladimir Tkachyov, and others, whose contract will expire at the end of the month.
Avangard will face the winner of the Western Conference finals with the series starting on April 13.