Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Ak Bars is the first team in the East to progress in this year’s playoffs, completing a sweep of Torpedo with a 3-1 victory in Nizhny Novgorod. And the conference semi-finals could produce a ‘Green Derby’ series, with Salavat Yulaev now just one game away from advancing following a second shut-out win in Chelyabinsk.

Metsola blanks Traktor again

Traktor Chelyabinsk 0 Salavat Yulaev Ufa 3 (0-0, 0-1, 0-2)

(Salavat Yulaev leads the series 3-1)

Back-to-back shut-outs in Chelyabinsk put Salavat Yulaev firmly in control of this first-round series. The visitor followed up Sunday’s 4-0 success with a 3-0 verdict here and now has the chance to wrap up the series in Ufa on Thursday.

Photo: 09.03.21. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Playoffs. Traktor (Chelyabinsk) - Salavat Yulaev (Ufa)

Not for the first time this season, it was Ufa’s Finnish contingent that settled the outcome. Goalie Juha Metsola made 21 saves, extending his shut-out streak to almost 137 minutes. And all three goals came from Salavat Yulaev’s strike force, with Teemu Hartikainen, Markus Granlund and Sakari Manninen all on the scoresheet.

Traktor tried to change the direction of the series by piling on the pressure early in the game. Pontus Aberg had a couple of chances, Vitaly Kravtsov’s speed and skill caused problems for the Ufa defense and Nick Bailen almost set up the opening goal when his point shot rebounded dangerously across the crease. But Traktor struggled to turn that pressure into shots on target and Salavat Yulaev withstood that early storm before gradually coming into the game at the other end.

The visitor raised the tempo at the start of the second period but took an early penalty and enabled Traktor regain the initiative. However, midway through the game, Salavat Yulaev eased the pressure when Rodion Amirov robbed Nick Bailen and launched a swift counterattack which ended with the puck and the forward in the net. It took a long time for the officials to review the footage and whistle off the goal, but the delay worked in Ufa’s favor. Tomi Lamsa outwitted the opposition, pitching a refreshed top line against Lukas Sedlak’s troika, and his tactical gambit paid off when Hartikainen finished Granlund’s move and opened the scoring in the 35th minute.

Traktor had to find a way of turning the game around in the final stanza, and through everything into a fast-paced start to the third period. A power play presented the home team with an opportunity to tie the game, but, not for the first time, the execution was lacking. And, once back to full strength, Salavat Yulaev extended its lead when Manninen’s pacey breakaway saw Granlund make it 2-0. Subsequently, Ufa locked down on defense, keeping Traktor at bay until Manninen potted a third goal into the empty net and wrapped up another convincing win.

The series continues on Thursday when the teams return to Ufa — and this time, Traktor has no further margin for error as Salavat Yulaev looks to finish off the series.

Ak Bars eases into round two

Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod 1 Ak Bars Kazan 4 (0-0, 1-3, 0-1)

(Ak Bars wins the series 4-0)

Ak Bars swept Torpedo to progress to round two of the 2021 playoffs. The Kazan team has been too good for the opposition throughout the series and Dmitry Kvartalnov’s men were determined to finish the job as quickly as possible and start preparing for bigger tests to come.

Photo: 09.03.21. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Playoffs. Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod) - Ak Bars (Kazan)

For Torpedo, meanwhile, the task was simple — win, or go home. As a result, the home team sought a solid start to the game and managed to gain the upper hand almost immediately when Andrei Pedan took a minor penalty just 16 seconds into the first period. That set the tone for a strong Torpedo performance but, despite more shots on goal (14-8) and more time on the attack (four minutes against three), David Nemirovsky’s men could not find a way past Timur Bilyalov.

And, at the start of the second period, Ak Bars took advantage and jumped ahead with two quick goals. First, the home defense allowed Pedan far too much time and space to line up his shot from the left-hand channel and open the scoring on 20:15. Then the visitor got its first power play of the game and Nigel Dawes doubled the lead with a wrister from the right-hand dot. That was Dawes’ first playoff goal for Ak Bars, and his first since 2019.

That left Torpedo dangling over the precipice of elimination, but a penalty on Harri Pesonen midway through the frame offered a lifeline. Ivan Chekhovich, who scored Torpedo’s previous goal in this series, broke his team’s goal drought after 90 minutes and gave the host hope of salvaging something.

Not for long, though. Within a couple of minutes, Ak Bars restored its two-goal advantage as Viktor Tikhonov scored for the third game in a row. Stephane Da Costa threaded a cross-ice pass onto Dawes’ stick and he picked out Tikhonov at the back door for a simple finish.

That effectively ended the contest. Torpedo has not won a playoff game since March 2019, when it took Barys to seven games in a first-round contest, and rarely looked capable of ending that run here. Ak Bars, meanwhile, brings abundant post season know-how to the table and had little difficulty in navigating the third period and wrapping up a series sweep.

The visitor’s task was helped when Daniil Veryayev was ejected from the game in the 47th minute for boarding: Ak Bars did not score on the power play, but happily watched the clock tick away. Torpedo’s last hope came and went when it got a 5-on-3 power play in the 56th minute, but there was no way through a stubborn defense. And, late in the game, Stanislav Galiyev had the final word with an empty net goal to make it four on the night and four wins in the series.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Related clubs

Ak Bars (Kazan) Ak Bars (Kazan)
Salavat Yulaev (Ufa) Salavat Yulaev (Ufa)
Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod Region) Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod Region)
Traktor (Chelyabinsk) Traktor (Chelyabinsk)
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