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Albert Yarullin’s return to the ice provided Ak Bars with an additional offensive weapon — and the defenseman’s shooting was a key feature in this win. Yarullin, back after injury, set up the first two goals in this game, laying the foundation for an assured home win at the start of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Ak Bars Kazan 4 Salavat Yulaev Ufa 1 (1-0, 3-1, 0-0)

(Ak Bars leads the series 1-0)

The teams made a lively start, but the first chances came after Grigory Panin took the first penalty of the game midway through the first period. Oddly, it was Salavat that showed first, forcing a turnover that ended with Pyotr Khokhryakov testing Timur Bilyalov. But, at the other end, it was Ak Bars who opened the scoring when Yarullin fired in a shot from the blue line and Patrice Cormier’s touch took the puck away from Juha Metsola in the visitor’s goal. That was all the separated the teams after an even first stanza.

Photo: 17.03.21. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Playoffs. Ak Bars (Kazan) - Salavat Yulaev (Ufa)

Early in the second period, the home team extended its lead with a similar goal: again, Yarullin had the shot and this time Mikhail Glukhov redirected the puck past Metsola. But Salavat needed just 26 seconds to tie the game, with Vladislav Kartayev overcoming his marker on the slot and forcing home a Evgeny Lisovets effort to deliver an instant Ufa riposte.

Pegged back to 2-1, Ak Bars’ problems increased when Harri Pesonen took a penalty. But the power play went awry and when Metsola was slow out of his crease to field a long clearance, Dmitry Voronkov sprinted in to steal away the puck and score on the wraparound. That shorthanded goal marked Voronkov’s 100th appearance for his club in style.

And there was plenty of style about the fourth goal, as Ak Bars delivered a dispiriting blow to Salavat Yulaev. The visitor fond that even when it threatened to get back into contention, the opposition remained in complete control. Thus, when Kristian Khenkel blocked a shot in front of his own net, Andrei Pedan was there to calmly chip the puck to the waiting Stephane Da Costa. The Frenchman caught it, dropped it to the ice, and sent Nigel Dawes racing into the Ufa zone to make it 4-1. Midway through the opening game of the series, Metsola was replaced by Daniil Tarasov.

The change of goalie at least halted the regular flow of goals into the Ufa net. Tarasov, making his first ever KHL playoff appearance, kept Ak Bars at bay for the remainder of the game. However, there was no way back for his colleagues, with the home team able to close out the third period under relatively little pressure. True, Salavat attempted to force the pace with a spell of 6-on-4 hockey after Dmitry Yudin took a penalty midway through the final session, but Bilyalov proved strong enough to steer Ak Bars through the penalty kill and the danger to the home team was largely theoretical once back to full strength.

Although Salavat Yulaev head coach Tomi Lamsa has plenty to think about after this game, he can take some comfort from recent history. For one, his team shared two wins apiece in its four ‘Green Derby’ meetings with Ak Bars this season and, more recently, Ufa recovered from losing the first game of its series against Traktor to advance to this semi-final series.

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Related clubs

Ak Bars (Kazan) Ak Bars (Kazan)
Salavat Yulaev (Ufa) Salavat Yulaev (Ufa)
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