(Ak Bars leads the series 3-0)
Ak Bars moved to within one game of sweeping its first-round series against Torpedo after an assured display on the road. The visitor blanked its host to post its 100th KHL playoff victory. That moves Ak Bars level with SKA, which got its 100th success in Minsk yesterday.
The games in Kazan did not offer much encouragement for Torpedo. Despite taking Ak Bars to overtime in the first meeting, the stats were unimpressive. Damir Zhafyarov’s prolific line was not delivering, the power play was misfiring and when it came to face-offs, David Nemirovsky’s team struggled to win a draw. The stage was set for a triumph of the kind evoked by Maxim Gorky, the great Soviet era writer whose name was once taken by this city.
However, Gorky has long been replaced by the city’s original name of Nizhny Novgorod and it was hard for Torpedo to live up to the inspirational text adopted as a slogan for the playoffs. Ak Bars, the East’s top seed, made a strong start, enjoying the better of the first period. The opening goal came on the first power play of the game, with Harri Pesonen firing home from a crowded slot after Kirill Petrov’s shot was steered back into the danger zone by Stanislav Galiyev.
However, Torpedo produced an improved display in the second period, taking the game to Ak Bars for long periods and threatening to tie it up. However, that ineffective power play reared its ugly head once more: three Ak Bars penalties went unpunished, even when the host had a 5-on-3 advantage.
Then the home team was hit with a double blow when Ak Bars scored twice in a minute. First, Nigel Dawes set up Viktor Tikhonov in space between the hash marks, then Mikhail Fisenko provided a similar service for Kirill Petrov. The goals were almost carbon copies of one another, right down to the hapless defenseman sliding desperately across the line of a shot that was already destined for the net. Adding insult to injury for Torpedo, the second of them came when the home team was on the power play.
In the third period, Nemirovsky attempted to shake up his lines in search of the alchemy that eluded his team up to now. However, it was too late to disrupt Ak Bars, with the visitor able to play out time as it defended a comfortable lead. By the time Chris Wideman took a 2+10 penalty late in the game, it was clear that Torpedo would not claim victory here. And, reinforcing the problems with the home power play, Artyom Lukoyanov added a second short-handed goal into the empty net with 30 seconds to play. Timur Bilyalov made 30 saves for his shut-out.
(Salavat Yulaev leads the series 2-1)
After trading victories in the opening games of this series, the two teams moved to Chelyabinsk with everything to play for — but if Salavat Yulaev was under some pressure going into Sunday’s third meeting of the series, the visitor responded with a commanding victory. A 4-0 success for Tomi Lamsa’s team hinted at some of the strong performances seen towards the end of the regular season.
Lamsa made one change to his line-up for this game, bringing in Dmitry Korobov in place of Pavel Koledov (illness). That had a potential impact on Salavat Yulaev’s play, with Korobov being more of a stay-at-home defenseman than Koledov. Traktor, meanwhile, preferred to continue with its established post-season roster.
Boosted by its home fans, Traktor made a good start to the game. The Czech duo of Tomas Hyka and Lukas Sedlak generated several good chances to open the scoring and Juha Metsola had plenty of work to do to keep his goal intact. Salavat struggled to get its offense going, with Traktor allowing little time or space for creativity anywhere on the ice. However, it was the visitor who opened the scoring when Vladimir Zharkov and Alexander Kadeikin got clear on the counter and the latter finished off the move after 12 minutes.
The second period began in similar fashion, with Traktor taking the game to Salavat Yulaev. In particular, Marsel Sholokhov’s fourth line proved a real handful for the visitor. But, once again, it was Ufa that conjured the goals. First, Teemu Hartikainen and Markus Granlund produced a slick combination that enabled Granlund to double the lead. Flustered, Traktor’s defense began making errors and that enabled Pyotr Khokhryakov to pounce for a third goal, chasing Ivan Fedotov from the net and ushering in a playoff debut for Roman Will.
Will was beaten almost immediately, but a bench challenge for offside won him a reprieve. His team-mates, meanwhile, needed to find a way back into the game and continued to press in the third period. However, Salavat understood perfectly well that the clock was very much on the visitor’s side and could afford to slow the tempo in the third period and focus on keeping it simple and denying any opportunities. As a result, Metsola secured his first shut-out of post season, making 19 saves, and an empty net goal from Vyacheslav Solodukhin wrapped up an impressive win.