(Metallurg leads the series 1-0)
While Avangard has twice reached a Gagarin Cup final, the Siberians have yet to win the KHL’s top trophy. Magnitka, by contrast, has two titles in the KHL. This year Avangard had the upper hand in the regular season, but at the start of this playoff series the Steelmen took the early initiative.
A powerful third period performance from Metallurg put the outsider ahead in this series. Three unanswered goals, scored in a three-minute burst in that final frame left Avangard with too much to do. The home team found its league-leading power play in good form once again — the Hawks had scored nine goals from 19 opportunities in the first round — but another goal scored with a numerical advantage were not enough to compensate for Avangard’s problems in five-on-five play in this game.
In the first couple of minutes, though, there were signs of anxiety from Metallurg’s players. The visitor twice iced the puck early on, handing the initiative to the home team. But the quickest way to calm nerves is to get on the scoreboard and after five minutes Magnitka went in front when Philip Holm sent a point shot through traffic. Sergei Plotnikov did not get a touch on the effort, but provided enough of a disturbance to confuse Igor Bobkov in the home net.
That ushered in a first period with Metallurg enjoying the bulk of the play — over five minutes spent on the attack, compared with less than two for Avangard. But the next goal went to the host as that impressive power play clicked once more. Reid Boucher tied the scores midway through the frame, firing home from the edge of the circle off Sergei Tolchinsky’s pass.
In the second period, Avangard had more than a minute of 5-on-3 power play but, unusually for a team with such effective special teams, was unable to take advantage. Indeed, the better chances went to Metallurg on the counter and the Hawks found their wings clipped by some steely penalty killing.
Late in the frame, Magnitka showed off its own power play prowess. Oliwer Kaski sat for high sticking and seven seconds later Taylor Beck restored the visitor’s lead. But the lead was short-lived: 19 seconds later Yegor Chinakhov’s first ever playoff goal tied the scores once again and set up a perfectly poised final stanza.
However, hopes of a titanic battle to the end evaporated in a flurry of quickfire scoring. First, Beck’s break down the right-hand channel saw him set up Semyon Koshelev between the hash marks and the forward showed great technique to wrong-foot his defenseman and place a wrist shot over Bobkov’s shoulder. Within a minute, it was 4-2. Sergei Mozyakin, perhaps inevitably, produced the decisive blow, turning Maxim Karpov’s good work behind the net into a fourth goal. Then we saw another power play tally from a team that converted 12 of its 28 PP opportunities in round one. This time the key contribution came from Dennis Rasmussen, who took Taylor Beck’s pass to the near post and showed great vision to hold the play and pick out a pass to the deep slot where Andrej Nestrasil was waiting to fire home the fifth goal.