(Avangard leads the series 3-2)
The reality proved rather different, though. Avangard, stung by its failure in Magnitogorsk on Wednesday, bounced back. Bob Hartley was expected to ring the changes after allowing seven goals in the previous game but, to everyone’s surprise, he named the same roster again. The Canadian has limited room for manoeuvre at the moment, with Maxim Chudinov and Nail Yakupov both injured and six imports competing for five spots on the team (Jiri Sekac is currently the ‘spare’). Replacing Hrubec with Igor Bobkov would have enabled Sekac to return to action, but Hartley remains confident of his Czech goalie and was rewarded in this game.
Hrubec made 38 saves on the night to record his second shut-out of the series. Metallurg’s offense failed to recreate its impressive performance from midweek, while the goalie was in fine form as he proved a point to all concerned. At the other end, hat-trick hero Corban Knight led the offense, putting Avangard in control in the first period before putting the outcome beyond doubt late in the game.
The Hawks opened a 2-0 lead in the first period, thanks to a brace of goals from Knight. His first came in the 12th minute, shooting home from between the hash marks off Reid Boucher’s feed. That assist maintains Boucher’s record of picking up a point on each playoff appearance this season and extends his productive streak to 14 games. And Knight doubled the lead late in the frame when he redirected a Damir Sharipzyanov point shot beyond Vasily Koshechkin.
Metallurg had its chances in that first period, though, and came close to reducing the deficit early in the second. Indeed, Semyon Koshelev will feel he should have done better when he found himself unmarked on the slot but fired his shot wide of Simon Hrubec’s net. Koshelev was also denied in the second period when Alexei Emelin got in a block after Taylor Beck’s work behind the net stretched home defense. However, while the Steelmen had the bulk of the play in the second frame, the Hawks’ defense was generally strong and there was no further scoring before the second intermission.
Hopes of a Metallurg recovery were ended late in the third when an error from Taylor Beck enabled Alexei Bereglazov to set Yegor Chinakhov sprinting into Magnitka territory. The youngster needed no invitation to shoot, and wired his wrister into the top corner with Koshechkin beaten. The goalie was soon called to the bench as Ilya Vorobyov threw a sixth skater into the fray, but the gamble backfired. Knight completed his hat-trick after he found space to take a shot from the slot; unusually, this time, it was the Avangard slot and the set-up came from his own goalie, Simon Hrubec. For the Canadian, that’s a first KHL hat-trick; for his team, it’s a vital edge in this conference semi-final.