Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Who says home ice is an advantage? For the fifth time in five games, the visitor came out on top in this Eastern Conference final, with Avangard snatching a dramatic last-minute equalizer before going on to win in overtime. Bob Hartley’s team snapped Ak Bars’ momentum and regained the lead in the series. Now the Hawks have the chance to book their place in the Gagarin Cup final on Tuesday — but only if they can snap the home ice curse in this series.

Ak Bars Kazan 2 Avangard Omsk 3 (0-1, 0-0, 2-1, 0-1)

(Avangard leads the series 3-2)

For Ak Bars, this was a tough loss to take. Despite trailing early in the game, the home team was up 2-1 thanks to a pair of third-period goals from Dmitry Voronkov. But it all fell apart late on, with Ilya Kovalchuk tying the game on 59:02 before Reid Boucher grabbed the winner in the second minute of overtime. Kovalchuk also had a helper on Semyon Chistyakov’s first-period opener, leaving Hartley to reflect that his alternate captain only needs one shot to get a big goal.

Photo: 11.04.21. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Playoffs. Ak Bars (Kazan) - Avangard (Omsk)

Neither team indulged in big changes on their return to Tatarstan. Dmitry Kvartalnov kept faith with the line-up that brought him back-to-back wins on the road, while Bob Hartley put Andrei Stas back into the team in place of Nikita Komarov.

The first four games in this round went to the visitor and, as the action returned to Kazan with the teams deadlocked at 2-2, the pressure was on Ak Bars to snap that sequence and move ahead in the series for the first time. Dmitry Kvartalnov’s team had the momentum after back-to-back wins in Balashikha, with Avangard hampered by the loss of captain Alexei Emelin.

Against that background, Avangard needed a strong start to the game and came out in the first period full of determination. The visitor enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, despite an early Ak Bars power play, and came close to the first goal midway through the first when Stas hit the post.

Then Avangard’s 19-year-old defenseman Semyon Chistyakov picked an opportune moment to score his first KHL playoff goal. The youngster joined the attack and had no hesitation in demanding a pass from Ilya Kovalchuk. It was the right call; Chistyakov collected the puck on the blue line and launched a one-timer that flew over Timur Bilyalov’s blocker to open the scoring in the 16th minute.

However, if the first period was dominated by Avangard, the second saw Ak Bars seize the initiative. The home team spent almost nine minutes on the attack, and outshot the visitor 15-3 in a relentless attacking display. Goalie Simon Hrubec was constantly in the thick of it, repeatedly denying the home offense. A further 17 shots were blocked as the Czech’s defense did its job, and there was notable last-ditch work from Damir Sharipzyanov — a Tatarstan native, but a graduate of Ak Bars’ local rival, Neftekhimik — to stifle a dangerous moment on the Avangard crease.

Avangard withstood the onslaught, and began to create more opportunities in the third period. But midway through the third, Ak Bars finally got on the scoreboard thanks to some individual flair from Dmitry Voronkov. The Kazan forward collected the puck inside his own zone and charged forward with only one thought in mind. Bursting into Avangard territory, the 20-year-old forward outwitted Kirill Gotovets and produced a finish that left Simon Hrubec helpless. With 10 minutes to play in regulation, was the home ice curse starting to crack?

For a time, it seemed that it was. Within four minutes, Voronkov was on target again when he finished off a team move. The Ak Bars power play took up its positions in the Avangard zone and moved the puck around nimbly before Stanislav Galiyev fired it to the slot where Voronkov was waiting to steer it past Hrubec. With six minutes to play, Ak Bars had a lead in the game for the first time and was on the brink of moving in front in the series.

However, the Hawks had other ideas. Kovalchuk, whose kneeing offense led to Ak Bars’ second goal redeemed himself in dramatic fashion with a last-minute equalizer. With Hrubec called to the visitor’s bench, the six skaters of Avangard threw everything forward in search of a much-needed goal. And, after Denis Zernov crashed the net, Kovi was on hand to fire through a crowd scene and drag the game into overtime for the first time in the series.

Those extras did not last long. After 113 seconds, Boucher potted the winner after outsmarting Nikita Lyamkin and firing low through Bilyalov’s pads. Yet again in this series, the home fans had to endure the celebrations of their visitor; now Avangard is one game away from progressing.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Related clubs

Avangard (Omsk) Avangard (Omsk)
Ak Bars (Kazan) Ak Bars (Kazan)
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