Andy Potts Andy Potts
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The 2021 Gagarin Cup final brings together the two teams that contested the 2019 edition. On that occasion, Igor Nikitin’s CSKA proved far too good for Bob Hartley’s Avangard, sweeping to a 4-0 victory and lifting the trophy for the first time.

CSKA Moscow 1 Avangard Omsk 4 (0-1, 0-1, 1-2)

(Avangard leads the series 1-0)

Much has changed since then. The Army Men of 2019 included Ilya Sorokin, Kirill Kaprizov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Nesterov on the roster; the Hawks had a healthy Alexei Emelin and Maxim Chudinov on defense, and a very different offense that relied on Sergei Shumankov, Sergei Shirokov, Taylor Beck and David Desharnais for scoring.

Both teams arrived in the final after tricky assignments in the previous round. CSKA jumped into a 3-0 lead over SKA, but needed three more games to finish the job. Avangard endured a seven-game marathon against Ak Bars before winning in overtime in the decider. That gave today’s host the edge in recovery time, with the visitor running on adrenaline — a point underlined by Hartley’s insistence that his team’s energy gave it a chance here.

And Bob Hartley paid tribute to his warriors after hooter. “Our players deserve lots of credit,” he said in a flash interview. “To be able to park all the emotions of that Kazan series and to respond with such a great effort in game one is pretty amazing.”

Two years ago, these teams began the last edition of the Gagarin Cup final to be played and CSKA wasted little time in taking control of the contest. Two goals inside the first 10 minutes of game one set the Army Men on the way to a 5-2 victory on the night and, ultimately, a series sweep as Igor Nikitin’s team lifted the cup for the first time.

Photo: 18.04.21. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Playoffs. Final. CSKA (Moscow) - Avangard (Omsk)

This time, though, it was a different story. True, the home team made a lively start, showing little evidence of five days with no action. Maxim Mamin almost converted an early power play, and Brendan Leipsic twice tested Simon Hrubec in a single shift as CSKA looked for the breakthrough.

However, the Hawks held on and responded with the opening goal in the 16th minute. Yegor Chinakhov, who was preparing for Russia’s U18 World Championship campaign when the 2019 final got underway, underlined his huge progress in the past two years when he beat Lars Johansson with a one-timer from the top of the right-hand circle. The goal came from the second wave of an Avangard attack, with Oliwer Kaski winning possession behind the net and recycling the puck for Semyon Chistyakov on the blue line.

It was a goal that changed the pattern of the game. If the first period was dominated by CSKA, with the Army Men doing everything but score in a session that saw Hrubec make 17 saves, the second was a far more even contest. The home team still saw plenty of the Avangard zone, spending more than seven minutes on the attack. However, the visiting defense doubled down and made it harder and harder for anyone to get good looks at Hrubec. All of that possession amounted to just five shots on target in the middle frame.

At the other end, Avangard was also getting more involved and posing a consistent threat on the breakaway. That delivered a second goal midway through the session, and another big moment for defenseman Kirill Gotovets. The Belarusian has never been noted for his two-way game until this post season. Now, suddenly, he can’t stop scoring. Today’s tally was a slap shot from the top of the left circle that whistled through a crowd of players and left the unsighted Johansson unable to react. That’s three goals for Gotovets in his last eight games — his previous three markers took 188 games.

CSKA needed a fast start in the third period, and Andrei Loktionov duly obliged. There seemed to be little danger when Leipsic and Anton Slepyshev combined down the right but sent the puck well into the Avangard zone well ahead of Loktionov. However, the forward’s explosive burst of speed confounded Ville Pokka, leaving the Finn to appear unduly complacent as the CSKA man stole the puck and went five-hole on Hrubec to give the home team a lifeline.

Moments later, more hesitant defense almost gifted the home team a tying goal. This time it was Gotovets who was caught out, but Ivan Telegin’s hasty swing at the loose puck lacked venom or precision and it clattered to safety off Hrubec’s helmet. On the next shift, Avangard had the puck in Johansson’s net once again, but the celebrations were immediately halted by the upraised arm of the official as Sergei Tolchinsky had the frame off its moorings long before the puck hit the target.

However, the home reprieve was short-lived and hopes of recovery were stymied with eight minutes left when Avangard got its first power play of the game in the 52nd minute. It didn’t take long for the visitor to capitalize, with a neat interchange ending with Reid Boucher firing a Corban Knight feed into the open net from an oblique angle and restoring the Hawks’ two-goal advantage after just 12 seconds with the extra man. 

Bob Hartley said it was a ‘huge’ goal: “It wasn’t an ideal situation because we gave them the momentum and we know how good they are, but we got that power play goal and it basically broke their backs.” 

From that point on, CSKA struggled to find a way back into the game and the final word came from Ilya Kablukov with an empty net goal from within his own zone.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Related clubs

Avangard (Omsk) Avangard (Omsk)
CSKA (Moscow) CSKA (Moscow)
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