Andy Potts Andy Potts
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CSKA moved ahead in this year’s Gagarin Cup final, coming from behind to win 2-1 at Avangard. The victory puts Igor Nikitin’s men in front for the first time in the series. For the Hawks, meanwhile, an unenviable home hoodoo continues. Bob Hartley’s men lost every game they played in Balashikha in the Eastern Conference final and came off second best in their first action on home ice in this year’s final.

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

(CSKA leads the series 2-1)

The Army Men suffered a blow coming into the game with Maxim Mamin unable to play. The forward, who has 11 points from 19 games in this year’s playoffs, took a knock during Tuesday’s 3-0 victory and did not feature in the third period. It was hoped that he would recover in time for game three, but it transpired that he would not appear. Veteran forward Alexander Popov took his place on the top line alongside Maxim Shalunov and Konstantin Okulov.

Photo: 22.04.21. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Playoffs. Final. Avangard (Omsk) - CSKA (Moscow)

The game began with almost six minutes of unbroken action. The first whistle did not arrive until 5:50 of the first period, with the teams producing plenty of flowing play but struggling to test Lars Johansson or Simon Hrubec in their respective nets. The first big chance came after eight minutes when Ilya Kovalchuk almost scored off the rebound after a shot cannoned back off the boards. Johansson, though, was alert to the danger and got his pad behind the shot.

The Swedish goalie set a play-off record in the previous game when he posted his seventh shut-out of post season. But he was powerless as Avangard went ahead in the 14th minute. Oliwer Kaski’s point shot caused confusion on the CSKA crease, Corban Knight battled against Klas Dahlbeck and Mario Kempe to keep the puck alive, and ultimately it dropped for Reid Boucher to score. Nikitin immediately challenged the play, claiming interference on goalie Lars Johansson, but the video review dismissed his complaint. The goal was given and CSKA lost its time-out.

CSKA tied it up late in the first, with Popov playing a big part. Shalunov, wide on the left, fired the puck to the slot where Popov’s instinctive no-look pass belied his lack of playing time with his current line-mates. He steered the puck onto the stick of the on-rushing Okulov, who made no mistake with the net at his mercy.

CSKA’s first line would combine once again for the game-winning goal midway through the third period. This time Okulov turned provider, producing a defense-splitting diagonal pass for Shalunov to rifle home a wrister from the left-hand circle. The play moved Okulov out in front in this year’s playoff scoring race, taking him to 19 (6+13) points. Shalunov remains one behind, but his 12 goals in post season make him the top sniper in the competition. That tally is not padded out with cheap markers, either; he now has the GWG in seven of CSKA’s 14 playoff victories to date.

In between, this was a game of contrasting styles. Avangard was happy to let CSKA keep a hold of the puck for long periods, confident that its defensive rigor would limit the danger to Hrubec’s net. In the middle frame, meanwhile, the home team picked up three power plays, enabling it to put more pressure on the CSKA goal. However, the most dangerous moment for the Hawks came late in that middle session when a Boucher shot rattled Johansson’s helmet and bounced wide. The Army Men’s best chance came on their solitary power play in the frame, but after Okulov got away from Ville Pokka he was unable to beat Hrubec.

The third period was defined by Shalunov’s goal, but Avangard might have saved the game. Immediately after taking the lead, CSKA found itself on the PK and Yegor Chinakhov tested Johansson. As the clock ran down, Alexander Khokhlachyov also got a good look at the visitor’s net after his line-mates outbattled the Army Men in the offensive zone. However, as Khokhlachyov lined up his shot, two opponents dived in to make the block and the opportunity was lost. In the closing stages, with Hrubec replaced by an extra skater, the Hawks launched one last attempt. However, CSKA remained resilient under pressure and closed out a narrow but crucial victory.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Related clubs

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