(Ak Bars leads the series 3-0)
For Salavat Yulaev, meanwhile, this round has been a wake-up call. Tomi Lamsa’s team rode a wave of scoring from its powerful Finnish line to make an impressive finish to the regular season, but that trio has found things tougher in the playoffs. Today, once again, Ak Bars silenced the Finns and you have to go back to the 3-0 win over Traktor on March 9 to find the last game that was dominated by Hartikainen, Granlund and Manninen.
And today’s loss was especially painful for the home team, which had won its previous encounters with Ak Bars on home ice. That stat offered good grounds to hope for improvement when the series came to Bashkortostan, but the host was unable to capitalize on big changes in the Ak Bars roster. The visitor sprang a surprise by leaving out Stephane Da Costa and moving Artyom Galimov up to the first line. Mikhail Fisenko made his first appearance of the series to center the second line and defenseman Roman Rukavishnikov also came in for the first time in the semi-final. While Dmitry Kvartalnov had a wealth of options ahead of his 100th KHL playoff game as head coach, his opposite number had far less room for manoeuvre and was left reshuffling three of his four lines in the hope of sparking some new energy on offense.
The first inkling that this might not be Salavat Yulaev’s day came in the third minute when Teemu Hartikainen inadvertently took out club captain Grigory Panin after Fisenko darted away from the pair and left them on a collision course. Nobody’s fault, but perhaps emblematic of the difficulties Ufa has faced in this series so far.
Those difficulties intensified late in the first period when Kirill Petrov contributed the latest addition to the 2021 playoff highlight reel. Petrov started on the right-hand boards and turned Alexander Kadeikin inside out before powering past Mikhail Naumenkov. That took the Ak Bars forward into the danger zone and he fired home the opening goal from between the hash marks.
Kadeikin, meanwhile, responded to that misfortune by playing a key role in the equalizer at the start of the second period. The Salavat Yulaev forward fell to the ice on almost the exact spot that Petrov outplayed him but recovered to move the puck to Geoff Platt in the corner. Platt’s feed picked out Dmitry Kugryshev and he rifled home from inside the circle to level the scores.
However, it did not take the visitor long to restore its lead. Harri Pesonen’s cross-ice pass picked out Mikhail Glukhov on the left-hand dot, and he got he shot away before Kugryshev could intervene. Juha Metsola got something on it in the Salavat net, but not enough to make the save and Ak Bars led once again.
Back in front, Ak Bars looked to push on and extend its lead, but Salavat resisted that charge and managed to turn the tide — at least sufficiently to persuade Kvartalnov to take a time-out. His team responded to his words, assuming a firm grip on the game that continued into the third period. This wasn’t merely defensive hockey, either. It’s true that the Ak Bars defense did a great job of stifling Ufa’s forwards, but there was also enough attacking intent to give the home team plenty to worry about at the other end of the ice. Late in the game, Rodion Amirov — fresh legs as the 13th forward — got his first shifts of the game but the youngster was unable to conjure a way to goal and even an injury to starting goalie Timur Bilyalov in the final moments could not hamper Kazan’s progress to another victory.