(Avangard leads the series 2-0)
There was a significant change on each roster for game two of the series — and both of them seemed to favor Ak Bars. The home team welcomed back Stephane Da Costa after he missed the opening game on Saturday. In the regular season, the French forward was his team’s top scorer with 57 (27+30) points from 52 games but his scoring has been slower in his six playoff appearances to date. However, his opportunities to add to his one goal and three assists in post season were enhanced by the absence of Avangard defenseman Alexei Emelin, usually the rock around whom Bob Hartley builds his defense. Emelin missed the game due to a lower body injury and after the game Hartley dedicated the victory to his captain and warrior.
Da Costa made his presence felt throughout the first period. He created the best scoring chance of the opening frame when his angled shot crashed off the boards and found Nigel Dawes at the back door, only for his team-mate to steer the rebound into the side netting. Midway through the first, he went close to opening the scoring during the first power play of the evening. To wrap up a lively stanza, he also took a roughing penalty. However, neither Da Costa nor his team-mates could break the deadlock. Ak Bars had the better of the first period, but Simon Hrubec was equal to everything that the home team could throw at him.
At the other end, Reid Boucher was looking to extend his productive streak to a record-equalling 17 games. The closest he came to a point in the first period was when he released Klim Kostin down the right-hand channel, but the youngster’s back-handed shot was comfortably saved by Adam Reideborn.
After the break, the home team stepped up the pressure and for long periods Avangard was unable to get the puck beyond halfway. However, Ak Bars seemed overly reliant on individual brilliance in the face of a well-drilled visiting defense: Viktor Tikhonov and Stanislav Galiyev were among the players who came close to conjuring a goal out of nothing, but there was less evidence of the ruthless team play that has been such a feature of Kazan hockey this season.
That, perhaps, was part of the Avangard game plan. And, as Ak Bars got more frustrated, the visitor went in front midway through the second period and, for the second time in this series, Kirill Gotovets got the opening goal of the game. This time he sniped a one-timer off Corban Knight’s feed, producing the kind of finish that would suggest a natural goalscorer. However, the Belarusian defenseman scored only his third goal since joining Avangard in the summer, and only the fifth of his 190-game KHL career to date. Sometimes, playoffs produce unexpected heroes.
Shortly afterwards, Hrubec was tested by Patrice Cormier’s one-timer off Kirill Petrov’s dangerous feed and the Czech was called into action once again by Tikhonov as the middle frame drew to a close. However, despite Ak Bars having the better of the play, the home team could not fashion the big chance it was looking for.
And that pattern continued into the third period. The action was almost all at one end, but Hrubec faced relatively few scares as his defense battled hard to keep Ak Bars at arm’s length. Ironically, perhaps the best chance of an equalizer came from a breakaway when Harri Pesonen forced a turnover and rushed to the net, only for Hrubec to get a pad behind the shot.
Then, at the other end, Boucher got his point with a contribution to Avangard’s second of the night. He took to the ice as part of the Hawks’ power play unit following a foul by Daniil Zhuravlyov and duly set up Oliwer Kaski for a point shot. Kostin duly redirected the Finn’s effort past Reideborn, giving Boucher the point he needed to equal Alexander Radulov’s KHL record productive streak of 17 games. Another point on Wednesday would take the American into uncharted territory in his first season in the competition.