Salavat Yulaev wins the series 4-2
Salavat Yulaev wrapped up this series in six games and avenged its Conference Final loss to this opponent last season. Nikolai Tsulygin’s team shrugged off its uneven regular season form to build on its 6-3 win in Balashikha on Monday and finish the job in front of its own fans. Now fans in Ufa and Kazan can look forward to another edition of the ‘Green Derby’ as Salavat prepares to meet Ak Bars in the Eastern Conference semi-final. The other semi-final in the East will pit Barys against Sibir.
Two quick goals towards the end of the first period made the difference in this one. The first, admittedly, prompted some debate. Linus Omark fired the puck to the net, a deflection set it looping into the air and Sakari Manninen demonstrated a forehand that a tennis pro wouldn’t sniff at to bat the disk into the net. The Avangard bench claimed Manninen’s stick was high, but the review ruled otherwise and Salavat Yulaev had the lead.
Two minutes later, another Finn found the net. Omark’s no-look pass went to Zakhar Arzamastsev at the point. The defenseman cannoned a shot into the boards and the rebound found Teemu Hartikainen waiting on the doorstep to lift the puck over Igor Bobkov.
That 0-2 deficit was frustrating for Avangard, not least because it had enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges. The visitor, determined to save the series, sought to dictate the pace from the first face-off. Juha Metsola was the busier goalie early in the game and the visitor’s cause was helped by a couple of penalties on the home team in the first 10 minutes.
The second period saw the visitor hit back, with Alexander Yaremchuk getting his first goal of the playoffs. The 20-year-old has just one previous KHL goal, scored in last year’s post-season, but today he showed his more experienced partners the route to the net, tucking away the rebound after Metsola stopped a Sven Andrighetto effort.
If that goal threatened to put Avangard back in the game, Maxim Mayorov improvised an answer midway through the second period. As his team looked to build a counter, the Ufa forward was caught off balance, one hand on his stick, in center ice. Nothing daunted, he managed to flick the puck back between his legs into the path of the onrushing Dmitry Kugryshev, who took it down the ice and finished off the play to make it 3-1. Apart from giving us a contender for assist of the season, the goal also saw the end of Igor Bobkov in the Avangard net; Emil Garipov took his place for the rest of the game, and indeed the season.
Earlier in the game, Avangard suffered from an unsuccessful bench challenge. Now it would suffer from a successful one. The puck got past Metsola – just – after the goalie put his pad behind a Evgeny Grachyov shot. However, Salavat Yulaev was concerned that Grachyov and Brandon McMillan had, between them, impeded the goalie in their enthusiasm to stuff it over the line. The officials were reluctant to review the call themselves, prompting Tsulygin to make his bench challenge. And, after a long look, the goal was whistled off and Ufa went to the intermission with a two-goal lead.
In the third period, Salavat Yulaev had to absorb the pressure. However, while Avangard outshot the host 15-5, the Hawks struggled to create the kind of big chances that could trouble Metsola and offer a way back into the game. Even at the death, with Manninen sitting out a double minor, Avangard could not find a way through; Sergei Shumakov flashed a great chance over the bar after Cody Franson’s shot was blocked. Then, after Garipov was called back to the bench, a short-handed empty net goal from Eduard Gimatov put the game beyond reach
For Avangard, then, no repeat of last year’s trip to the Grand Final. But in Ufa, dreams of emulating last year’s surprise run to the Conference final are very much alive.