(Series tied at 2-2)
Neither team changed personnel after Ak Bars won 2-0 on Wednesday. Kvartalnov, typically, is loth to change a winning line-up while Bob Hartley has few alternatives open to him right now. Off the ice, there was encouraging news about the health of captain Alexei Emelin, who was discharged from intensive care and moved to a specialist unit at Moscow’s Sklifosovsky hospital as his condition improves. However, he is far from a return to action, adding to an injury list that also includes defenseman Maxim Chudinov and forward Nail Yakupov.
Today’s game had much in common with Wednesday’s encounter. On that occasion, Ak Bars got the opening goal and defending stoutly thereafter, preserving that lead and claiming a 2-0 victory. On Friday, once again, the visitor made the brighter start and went ahead in the first period. This time, though, Avangard snatched a late consolation goal before going down 1-2; Corban Knight’s effort meant little in the context of this game but could have a psychological impact for the rest of the series.
Mikhail Glukhov opened the scoring in the sixth minute, but the goal was all about Alexander Burmistrov. He started behind the net, harrying Maxim Goncharov and forcing Denis Zernov into an error. A hasty half clearance towards Alexei Bereglazov was intercepted by Burmistrov, steering the puck to Glukhov at the top of the circle. And Bereglazov’s misfortune was not over; the incoming shot deflected off the defenseman’s leg and arced up over Simon Hrubec.
There was another big chance for the visitor late in the frame when Ak Bars organized a two-on-two rush and Nigel Dawes dinged his shot off the outside of the post with Hrubec beaten. However, it would be wrong to suggest that the home team was silenced in the opening frame. Avangard had its chances, and enjoyed plenty of puck possession, but much of the Hawks’ play created more anticipation than genuine excitement as Ak Bars went into the first intermission with a slender lead.
It was a different story after that break, though, with Timur Bilyalov repeatedly called into action as Avangard looked to get back into the game. The home team had 15 attempts on target and the visiting goalie looked sharp as he dealt with efforts from Bereglazov and Sergei Tolchinsky, among others. However, the best chance came late in the frame when the Hawks almost grabbed a shorthanded goal. Corban Knight burst into the Ak Bars zone and found Ville Pokka at the far post. The Finn sent the puck back in front of the net, but Reid Boucher was unable to apply the finish as the visiting defense got back to cover.
That same power play — prompted by a high sticking call on Klim Kostin — helped Ak Bars extend its lead at the start of the third. Stanislav Galiyev took the puck into the corner and looked to set up Artyom Galimov in the center. However, Galimov was unable to get his shot away and the play returned to Galiyev, who squeezed a shot behind Hrubec from the tightest of angles.
Shortly afterwards, the teams traded scoring chances. First, Danis Zaripov was close to taking the game away from Avangard with a piece of impudent individual skill. The Kazan veteran stole the puck from Damir Sharipzyanov and executed a spin-o-rama in front of the net, but his shot went narrowly wide. At the other end, Kirill Gotovets found Alexander Khokhlachyov all alone between the hash marks, but the home forward was as surprised as everyone else at this rare lapse from the Ak Bars defense and fanned his shot.
There was still time for late drama. Avangard pulled one goal back with 8.5 seconds left to play when Knight tucked away the rebound after a shot from the right-hand circle was padded away. That came on the power play, with the Hawks playing 6-on-4; once Glukhov returned to the game, there simply was no time for the home team to get a second goal and take the action into overtime.