Opposite to Riga - The Kazan team was rolling high entering the battle on a four-game winning streak. Although Riga’s Johan Mattsson returned to line-up Julius Hudacek would start in back-to-back games and lines would be juggled once again by Valerijs Kulibaba. Offense has caused issues in the past but Riga were set to try to repeat something they’ve done last year when they pulled off a 5:4 OT victory against their opponent.
Although the visiting Dinamo Riga squad appeared as the better team, Ak Bars managed to pull off a comeback to hand a 2:4 loss to their guests.
‘’It wasn’t a bad game for the first forty minutes but our own individual errors in the third period decided the outcome of the game.’’ Dinamo Riga head coach Valerijs Kulibaba said after the game. ‘’Our guys acted like men, there was a rough play against our player and Cibulskis went to defend his player, it only made sense for him to do it’’ the coach commented on having two fights between the teams in the last two meetings. ‘’Timur Bilyalov is a goalie we know well. We were told how to shoot at him, we had opportunities but we couldn’t once again capitalise. The team made the wrong decisions in the end there and we gave them the goals. We kept playing according to our plan, as I said we had the opportunities but we wasted them.’’
The game did begin in high action. Both teams tried to get the momentum going with high-pressure plays. Ak Bars did not waste any time as they attempted to shoot everything at the net of Hudacek. The high tempo clearly seemed to work more in favor of the home side. Riga’s counters didn’t come often as all they could do with the puck was pass it far or dump it away. The best chance early on was for Kirill Petrov who’s wrap-around nearly slid into the net.
Kristaps Sotnieks dislodged the net at one point and Ak Bars went to ask for a penalty, the referees explained that it wasn’t intentional allowing teams to continue playing five-on-five. The game leveled as the time went on and Lauris darzins was the one with first real shot at the goal which Timur Bilyalov barely turned away.
Eventually the first power-play would come for Ak Bars as Brandon Gormley was sent to the penalty box. Riga managed to defend well and so the penalty was killed. Neither side would give anything up in this game and a fight between Cibulskis and Glukhov broke out, punches weren’t thrown but both were sent to the box. Glukhov ended up receiving a five minute major and a game misconduct giving Riga a golden opportunity to take the lead.
Ak Bars followed up with a bench minor handing the visitors a 5-on-3 advantage and they capitalised on it - Cerveny shot the puck at the net from the right side and it bounced off of Timur Bilyalov for Gints Meija to cash in on the rebound to give his team their first lead of the game. While still on man advantage Tarasov had an opportunity to score on a breakaway but Hudacek stopped him to assure his team would be up 1:0 after the first period.
Riga seemed energised after a very strong showing in the first but Ak Bars weren’t going to slow down either, back-and-forth hockey returned. A quicker pace was set by Riga showing that their intention is to raise the tempo even further as that seemed to be the key for them in this game. Both sides also didn’t hesitate to lay a hit. Five minutes in, Edgars Kulda had a superb opportunity from close range but the puck went wide.
All of a sudden the visitors had the game on their stick, creating chance after chance and forcing Timur Bilyalov to work in order to make saves when necessary. Bilyalov showing confidence allowed his team to play more aggressive and all of a sudden they controlled the action and had gained momentum. Ak Bars did manage to tie things up - a quick counter with a far pass catching Dinamo on a line-change for a tic-tac-toe that was finished off by Jordan Weal. The game reset putting sides on equal terms.
Soon after Riga did get a shot to once again regain the lead on power-play as Adel Bulatov was handed a high-sticking penalty. Shots towards the net flew, some stopped by Bilyalov, some went wide and the man advantage ended without a goal. Kulibaba sent out the fourth-line that had rested during the power-play and they continued to shoot puck at the net but once again the goalie in green was sharp. Their pressure kept showing until the final horn of the period - 1:1 after two.
Yet another active start of the period with some heavy hits and battles around the boards. It seemed like a high tempo game would be there up until the very end. Every single player including the goalies were determined to get their team two points and it showed. Lauris Darzins once again tried a nifty move and went to crash the net from behind but it wasn’t good enough to score a goal. Offensively Riga played an active game while switching on defence they were more pragmatic but awaited their opponent up high not allowing a whole lot to be created.
Dinamo Riga and their pressure was awarded with a goal to once again go up by a goal - Ak Bars failed to clear the puck out of their defensive zone, it landed on Darzins stick who wristed it towards Bilyalov who made the initial save which went back to Latvian captain who cashed it in for 2:1 making everyone, including coach Kulibaba to light up with a smile.
Dinamo wouldn’t sit back and wait for the opponent to come flying at them. They kept playing aggressive and they kept playing hard and fought for every inch of the ice. Unfortunate things happened and Gormley was once again sat in the sin bin. Ak Bars once again tied things up - an error clearing the puck and puck went up high and past Hudacek. Riga contemplated taking a coaches challenge but decided against it, not willing to risk losing their timeout.
The men in green appeared to have woken up after the goal and once again quickly entered the zone and while falling Zaripov backhanded the puck into the net in a manner which was really complicated for the goalie forcing Riga to be down for the first time in this match. They managed to bring another one for themselves and all of a sudden it was 4:2 in favor of the home side. A timeout was called as the game approached the end, Hudacek pulled for extra attacker but Riga conceded the game and continued their losing streak.
‘’It’s hard to say what went wrong. We played great, I really liked how the team played tonight and fought. We were unlucky. Small things cost us the game, on occasion we couldn't clear the puck properly while shorthanded. Step by step Ak Bars returned into the game and tasted the blood to then quickly get their goals. I think that the whole game was one huge positive, we played against one of the league’s best teams and we looked good. I really think that we controlled the game well, our forecheck was good, we had moments to score, we just had to score more. It’s bad that we lost but there are a lot of positive takeaways after this one.’’ Edgars Kulda described post match.