Saint Petersburg (17:00)
Nizhny Novgorod (18:00)
Saint Petersburg (19:30)
(Avangard leads the series 2-0)
Ak Bars will be left wondering how it failed to claim victory in game three of this series, but the answer could be summed up in two words: Simon Hrubec. The Czech goalie was inspired, making 43 saves to frustrate and deny the opposing defense. Then, with shades of Muhammed Ali’s old ‘rope-a-dope’ tactics, Avangard delivered the knock-out blow late in the game with goals from Arseny Gritsyuk and Pavel Dedunov in the final minutes.
Ak Bars looked to press from the start and the early stages saw plenty of pressure from the visitor. Avangard was in danger of losing its grip on the game, but gained a foothold due to some great work on the draw: at the end of the opening frame, the home team had won 19 of 23 face-offs, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of Corban Knight.
Early in the second, the home team tested Timur Bilyalov for pretty much the first time in the game: Sergei Tolchinsky’s cross-ice pass set up Damir Sharipzyanov for a one-timer, but the goalie was able to slide back into position and make the stop. However, it was Ak Bars that had the better of the game, firing in 17 shots. Daniil Zhuravlyov and Alexander Burmistrov brought the best out of Hrubec midway through the frame, then late in the stanza Jordan Weal narrowly failed to steer Kirill Adamchuk’s shot beyond Hrubec.
The pattern of play did not much change in the third, with Ak Bars continuing to have more of the play, but Avangard still looking dangerous on the counter. And that ultimately paid dividends for the home team in the 55th minute. Tolchinsky brought the play out of his own zone and fed Gritsyuk in center ice. The youngster advanced down the left channel and fired a shot from the top of the circle that flashed inside the far post to break the deadlock at last.
Ak Bars tried to find an answer quickly, but was unable to do so. Avangard defended solidly in the closing moments, even after Bilyalov went to the bench in favor of an extra forward. And the coup de grace arrived with five seconds to play when Dedunov fired into the empty net from the red line to seal the win ... and possibly the series.