(Avangard leads the series 1-0)
The home team had swept its way past Torpedo and Salavat Yulaev to reach this stage and Dmitry Kvartalnov was able to call on fit-again goalie Timur Bilyalov as well as defenseman Trevor Murphy for this one. Murphy, who missed the whole of the Green Derby series, lined up in the second pair; Bilyalov was named as Adam Reideborn’s understudy. However, Ak Bars was without French center Stephane Da Costa and veteran Danis Zaripov, both of whom might have supplied the firepower needed to win this one. Avangard welcomed back Ilya Kablukov in place of Andrei Stas.
Visiting head coach Bob Hartley said his team’s number one goal was to get off to a good start, and the first period did not disappoint Avangard. The game was played at a high tempo from the start, although it took some time for the teams to generate much danger in front of either goalie. Midway through the first period, though, the chances started emerging. First, Ak Bars won a battle behind the net and Mikhail Glukhov’s shot from the slot forced a good save from Simon Hrubec. In response, Kirill Semyonov led an Avangard counterattack but his shot was blocked by Mikael Wikstrand and, at the other end, Glukhov almost created a chance for Mikhail Fisenko in the danger zone.
That flurry of activity was soon crowned by the opening goal of the game – but it came from an unexpected source. Belarusian defenseman Kirill Gotovets had just three KHL goals in 188 games ahead of today, but when he flipped in a wrister from out wide on the left he picked a lane through the traffic that Nikita Komarov generated in front of Adam Reideborn and gave Avangard a 12th-minute lead.
The Hawks held that lead until the intermission, fulfilling Hartley’s first requirement for the game. However, even in that opening session, Simon Hrubec was far the busier of the two goalies and that pattern was reinforced after the break as Ak Bars went all out to find a tying goal. The home team led the shot count 12-4 in the period and eventually drew level with a power play goal in the 34th minute. Stanislav Galiyev shot wide of the net and the puck boomed back off the board to Kirill Petrov. From a tight angle, he fired the puck into the danger zone and got a kind bounce off the skates of Ville Pokka to tie the game.
Then came a spot of pushing and shoving in front of the visitor’s net after Dmitry Yudin sought to barge his way onto Hrubec after the Czech goalie made a save and Alexei Emelin took issue with his opponent’s attitude. Ten seconds later we saw another skirmish as Patrice Cormier and Sergei Tolchinsky disagreed after the visiting forward’s reaction to a challenge. With Avangard on the power play, Ilya Kovalchuk came close to restoring the Hawks’ lead before the second pause.
If Ak Bars thought that the middle frame had turned the game in its favor, Avangard had other ideas. The visitor came out for the third in determined mood and went on to dominate the play. Now it was the away team leading the shot count, seemingly eager to avoid going into overtime. True, the host had a big chance to get in front when Galiyev was left all alone in front of the net, only for Hrubec to come up with a huge save to keep the scores level. But in the end it was Avangard’s enterprise that got its reward with a late winner. We were already inside the final two minutes of the frame when Semyonov tried a shot from the right-hand board. There did not seem to be much danger but Reideborn, perhaps distracted by the presence of Alexander Khokhlachyov in his peripheral vision, failed to react as the puck snuck past to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead with 107 seconds left to play.
It might have been the game-winner, but it was not quite the end. In the final minute Klim Kostin added an empty-net goal to make it 3-1, with Reid Boucher’s assist maintaining his impressive productive streak. Boucher has a point in every one of his playoff appearances so far, while his total sequence now extends to 16 games.