(Traktor leads the series 1-0)
Two goals from Vyacheslav Osnovin set Traktor on the way to victory at Salavat Yulaev. The visitor became the first team to upset the seeding in this year’s playoffs, defeating an Ufa roster that finished fourth in regular season.
The expectation was that Salavat Yulaev’s Finn-tastic first line would be the key component in this series. If Hartikainen, Granlund and Manninen translated their league-leading regular season form into the playoffs, Tommi Lamsa’s team would be a serious contender to go deep into post season. However, in Wednesday’s opening game, Traktor silenced that potent threat and parleyed defensive fortitude into a 3-1 verdict.
Traktor got ahead early in this game thanks to Vitaly Kravtsov. There did not seem to be much on for the on-loan New York Rangers prospect when his team won a defensive face-off and cleared its lines. However, the 21-year-old’s pace saw him leave Mikhail Naumenkov in his slip-stream as he hared down the left-hand channel before firing in a shot that Juha Metsola could only fumble into the net.
Kravtsov shot to fame with a stellar playoff performance in 2018 when, as an 18-year-old, he emerged from obscurity to score 11 points in 16 games as Chelyabinsk reached the conference finals. Today was his first post season goal since then as he extends his most productive season in pro hockey.
However, it wasn’t enough to put Traktor in control of the game. Within a minute, Salavat Yulaev levelled when Vladislav Kartayev went charging down the left channel and picked out a sublime backhander to beat Ivan Fedotov. Those two goals resembled each other, but far from setting the tone for a barn burner of a first period, they turned out to be the only scoring in the opening frame.
That was partly due to Traktor closing down the Salavat Yulaev offense in the first period. Tellingly, the Finnish first line was limited to a single shot from Markus Granlund as the visitor worked hard to neutralize the KHL’s most dangerous combination.
After the break, though, things began to change. Ufa posed far more of a threat, with Teemu Hartikainen and Sakari Manninen starting to have more of an influence on proceedings. However, the next goal went to the visitor when Osnovin made it 2-1 midway through the session. It started with an Osnovin shot that Metsola could only push back out in front of the net. The forward followed up his initial effort, as did team-mate Daniil Ilyin, and the pair converged on the loose puck and, between them, stuffed it into the net. It took two video reviews to establish firstly that neither forward used his hand and secondly that a bench challenge for goalie interference was unfounded. The goal survived both checks and Traktor was back in front, with Osnovin getting the credit for the marker.
That was a first playoff goal for the 26-year-old, who made his post-season debut back in 2016. His second playoff tally was not so long in coming and it arrived at the start of the third period. Osnovin exchanged passes with Tomas Hyka before flicking in a backhand shot from the back doorstep. His effort took a deflection off a home defenseman and deceived Metsola as it snuck between near post and pad to give the visitor a 3-1 lead and leave the host with a mountain to climb.
Even with a two-goal lead to defend, Traktor did not sit back. The third period was an even battle. Salavat Yulaev had its chances — perhaps none better than Hartikainen’s attempt to convert the rebound from a Granlund shot moments after Osnovin’s second goal — but was unable to beat Fedotov. And home hopes ended early when Pyotr Khokhryakov was called for hooking in the 58th minute, putting the brakes on a final charge and helping Traktor close out the win.
(Ak Bars leads the series 1-0)
Ak Bars found life tougher than expected its in opening game of this year’s playoffs. Dmitry Kvartalnov’s team grabbed an early lead over Torpedo but could not make its status count in regulation and was tied 1-1 after 60 minutes. It wasn’t until overtime that the home team secured its first win of post season, edging the verdict on Trevor Murphy’s power play goal.
The opening stages went to form, with Ak Bars taking an early lead. The home team attacked down the left channel, Trevor Murphy slipped the puck inside and Artyom Galimov burned past Georgy Misharin before squeezing a shot over Andrei Tikhomirov’s shoulder to open the scoring in the fifth minute. And the East’s top seed continued to have the better chances in the opening stanza but was unable to add to its lead.
Late in the first period, Torpedo’s task got even more difficult. Defensive Mikhail Orlov was ejected from the game for an illegal hit to the head of Mikhail Glukhov as the pair jockeyed for position in front of the Tikhomirov’s net.
However, Torpedo survived that scare and killed the major penalty. And, although the visitor had to soak up plenty of pressure in the second period, it did a good job of keeping the Ak Bars offense at bay in a game that became progressively more even as the minutes ticked past. The home team was unable to extend its lead and Torpedo grew in confidence.
Midway through the third, a tying goal added substance to David Nemirovsky’s optimism. Chris Wideman enjoyed an effective rookie season in the KHL, finishing as the top-scoring D-man. And he took that form into the playoffs with his team’s first goal of post season. Chris Terry fed the puck back to the blue line and Wideman unleashed his thunderbolt of a shot. Adam Reideborn got a piece of it in the Ak Bars net, but not enough to stop it trickling over the line.
Torpedo took the game into overtime with few scares, and the visitor’s composure made it hard to argue that it did not deserve at least a tie after 60 minutes. However, in the extras Ak Bars began to get on top. A penalty on Damir Zhafyarov did not bring a goal, but when Wideman sat a couple of minutes later, the home team took advantage. Stephane Da Costa took the puck behind the net and set up Murphy; the defenseman’s finish brought him a first ever KHL playoff goal and illuminated the first of 16 lights assembled on the façade of the Tatneft Arena — one for every victory needed to lift the Gagarin Cup for a fourth team in club history.