(Metallurg leads the series 2-1)
Nikolai Goldobin is fast emerging as Metallurg’s key performer in this year’s playoffs. The forward had three points in the 7-4 victory in game one and today in Kazakhstan he scored his third post season goal to restore Magnitka’s lead in the series.
The 25-year-old has not had the easiest of times since returning to Russia at the start of this season. The ex-NHLer, who featured for the Sharks and the Canucks during five full seasons as a pro in North America, initially joined CSKA. However, that move did not work out as well as hoped and in mid-season he was on his travels again to join Metallurg.
Today, Goldobin’s big moment came early in the second period when he tied the game. He struck in the 24th minute, converting the rebound from Artyom Zemchyonok’s shot. Zemchyonok, too, has not had an easy path to the playoffs — this was his first post season appearance for four years. Goldobin’s goal was quickly followed by a second for Metallurg, the visitor executing a move straight out of the coach’s playbook when Yegor Martynov fired home after his team won the draw in front of Joni Ortio’s net.
The represented a big turnaround after Barys went in front in the first period. The home team was boosted by the sight of spectators in the arena for the first time this season: a relaxing of the restrictions in Kazakhstan means that 30% of tickets can now be sold. The 3,300 lucky fans who got into the game saw Metallurg make a bright start, only to fall behind against the run of play when Jakob Lilja got clear on the counter-attack to pot a short-handed goal in the 15th minute.
It was the third time in three games that Barys took a lead into the first intermission, but Metallurg had been strong in each of the second periods so far and continued that pattern here. Two unanswered goals put the visitor in front and the home team was unable to take its chance on the power play late in the frame.
Then Metallurg took three penalties at the start of the third period, facing just over a minute of 3-on-5 PK in the midst of a long spell under pressure. The Steelmen held on, and once back at even strength Barys found it harder to test goalie Juho Olkinuora. Yury Mikhailis called a time out with 90 seconds left, but even with the extra skater, Barys could not find a way to save the game. Metallurg was able to hold play in center ice for long periods and dealt with the remaining attacks that emerged in the closing seconds.
(Avangard leads the series 2-1)
Avtomobilist hauled itself back into contention in this series, winning its first game on home ice after finding a way to silence Sergei Tolchinsky. The Avangard forward scored in both games in Balashikha, helping the Hawks open a 2-0 lead, but he made little impression in the Urals as the Motormen hit back.
In the regular season, these teams traded home victories and ahead of the trip to Yekaterinburg both head coaches made one change to their line-ups. For Avto, Bill Peters was able to recall Andrei Obidin for his first game since Feb. 18; Bob Hartley replaced Maxim Chudinov with Kirill Gotovets.
The bare stats did not tell the story of the first period. Although Avangard had twice as many shots as the host, Avtomobilist came out and played as befits a team with home ice advantage. The Motormen enjoyed greater control of the puck, and had more time to set up extended periods in the Hawks’ zone. As usual, Bob Hartley’s team relied more on counter punches, setting the tone for an intriguing contest.
In response, Peters clearly urged his players to focus on getting more pucks to the net in the second period as he sought a cutting edge to match that territorial control. However, extra work did not greatly alarm visiting goalie Igor Bobkov, and the game turned into a stop-start affair — not least due to a pause to replace some broken plexi.
That all changed when Brooks Macek took a penalty midway through the second period. However, after failing to convert possession into goals, Avtomobilist unexpectedly broke the deadlock with a shorthanded breakaway finished off by Stanislav Bocharov. However, Avangard was only briefly inconvenienced: the power play continued and Alexander Khokhlachyov tied the scores.
As the game entered the third stanza, both teams were visibly cautious. The cost of any error would be high — especially for the home team, which had to claw back that 0-2 deficit today if it was to avoid a string of ‘win-or-bust’ encounters to prolong its season. One big task was to keep Tolchinsky out of the game, and Avto managed that by limiting the forward to just three shots on goal.
However, that came at the cost of blunting the home offense. Bobkov was rarely troubled and it seemed that overtime was inevitable. However, a routine play suddenly turned into a decisive blow with less than two minutes to play. Georgy Belousov got the vital touch on an otherwise straightforward shot, steering the puck into the net. There was a long video review — anxious times for an Avtomobilist team that was twice denied by the video judges on Thursday — before the goal was awarded. Avangard created a couple of late scares, but was unable to save the game and this series is roaring back to life.