Sibir leads the series 3-1
Avtomobilist came roaring back into this series with a big win on the road in Novosibirsk. The Motormen knew that this was their last chance to get on the scoreboard after Sibir opened a 3-0 lead following Friday’s overtime victory on a Nikita Shashkov goal.
But life in the last chance saloon suited the visitor, which blazed to a 5-1 victory and ensured that the action will continue in the Urals on Tuesday in game five. Andrei Martemyanov’s team got a boost before the game with the return of Anatoly Golyshev for his first game since Feb. 13.
The first period saw both teams create chances early on: Dan Sexton went close for Avtomobilist on his first shift of the game, while Juuso Puustinen, a hat-trick hero last time out, went close with his trademark wrist shot. Nikita Tryamkin went even closer, hitting the crossbar for the visitor, but the first intermission came with the scoreboard blank.
That all changed in the middle frame as Avto got three quick goals to take a firm grip of proceedings. Georgy Belousov opened the scoring when he forced home a rebound from his own shot. Then came two goals in a minute, with Golyshev assisting on Pavel Datsyuk’s first goal of post-season before Peter Holland added a power play tally to chase starting goalie Hari Sateri from the net. The Finn, who made at least 37 saves in his first three games, found that heavy workload catching up with him.
Sibir did manage something of a recovery and when Danil Romantsev pulled back a goal on the power play there was hope of a fightback in the third period. But Sexton snuffed out those hopes early in the final stanza when he made it 4-1 before Maxim Berezin potted a fifth to complete the scoring.
What prompted the transformation? First, it’s worth noting that the 3-0 margin in the series was not quite evidence of Sibir’s domination. Two of those games went to overtime and, generally speaking, the difference was down to Nikolai Zavarukhin’s team taking its chances more effectively. Avtomobilist was creating opportunities but struggled to put them in the net before today. Whether it will be too little, too late for the Yekaterinburg team remains to be seen; so far, only once in KHL history has any side recovered from losing the first three games in a playoff series. Avto will seek to prolong this one when the teams meet again on Tuesday.
Ak Bars wins the series 4-0
It was another hard-fought local derby, but Ak Bars edged another one-goal verdict to complete a sweep of near neighbor Neftekhimik and book its place in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Stanislav Galiyev, the leading goalscorer in Kazan’s last Gagarin Cup triumph back in 2017, got the all-important marker in this game. He struck midway through the second period, collecting Matt Frattin’s pass out of the corner and lifting a wrister over Konstantin Barulin’s glove from the left-hand dot. The finish resembled the two goals from Emil Galimov in the previous meeting; the Neftekhimik goalie’s Achilles heel exposed, perhaps? The goal gave Galiyev, a former Washington Capital, his 100th point since returning to Russia to play in the KHL.
From that point on, Dmitry Kvartalnov’s team was able to focus on keeping Neftekhimik at bay with a careful, disciplined defensive display. So complete was Ak Bars’ control in the third period that the host could only get three shots to go through to Timur Bilyalov despite firing in 15 attempts on his net. The visiting defense blocked seven of them, the remaining five were harmlessly off target. Bilyalov secured his first playoff shut-out to take his team through to the next round with a minimum of drama.
However, things might have been very different. Neftekhimik’s veterans, Vitaly Atyushov and Ildar Shiksatdarov spoke of the need to get a victory here at all costs and the home team was active from the first moments as it tried to inch ahead in this game. Indeed, had it not been for a successful coach’s challenge midway through the opening frame, the host might have succeeded. Matt White thought he had given Neftekhimik the lead when he stuffed the puck home from close range following a scramble in front of Bilyalov. However, the goalie insisted he had been impeded and Kvartalnov called for a review that showed Zach Mitchell skating across the paintwork as White prepared to shoot. No goal, and further frustration for Vyacheslav Butsayev’s team.
That frustration intensified after a penalty on Rafael Bikmullin in the 16th minute handed the initiative to Ak Bars. The visitor not only took control of the action while it had a man advantage but maintained that momentum when the teams were back at full strength. Thus, the team was able to make a strong start to the second period and grab the all-important goal. Furthermore, it had presentable chances to extend that lead in the middle frame without being able to convert one.