(Series tied at 3-3)
The goals just keep on coming in this series, with the teams trading six tallies today and bringing the aggregate over six games to 47. That’s more than any playoff series in KHL history, and second only to Lokomotiv’s 2011 series with Dinamo Riga in terms of goals per game.
And this time it was the defending champion that had the better of the game. Two power plays in the first period brought two goals for Avangard and brought this series right back to life. The home team knew that it had no further margin for error in this match-up, and took control of game six in the opening frame.
The breakthrough came after Linus Hultstrom was penalized for holding the stick of Arseny Gritsyuk as the young forward tried to force a turnover in the Metallurg zone. Avangard exploited that power play, with Nikita Soshnikov rifling home a wrister from the left-hand circle to open the scoring.
Then, just before the intermission, a high stick call on Semyon Koshelev gave the Hawks a second power play, and Alexei Emelin fired home a second goal. The defenseman fired in a wrist shot from the blue line, and Corban Knight’s presence on the slot distracted Vasily Koshechkin in the Metallurg net.
The theme continued in the second period. Yegor Yakovlev followed Denis Zernov into the box to give Avangard a 5-on-3 advantage, and although Zernov returned to the game the Hawks would not be stopped. An impressive flurry of one-time passes set up Gritsyuk and the youngster buried his chance to make it 3-0.
When Metallurg was in the process of taking a 0-2 deficit in the series and turning it into a 3-2 lead, the Steelmen’s three Canadian forwards came to prominence. Brendan Leipsic, Philip Maillet and Josh Currie all scored in both of the last two games. Today, though, Avangard managed to get a grip on Magnitka’s offense. After allowing 20 goals in the previous four games, the Hawks tightened up at the back and Simon Hrubec enjoyed greater protection than in recent days. Strikingly, by the midway point, the Canadian trio was limited to just two shots on goal and the Czech goalie had only nine saves to make.
At the other end, there was no such problem for the home offense. Gritsyuk got his second of the game late in the middle frame – the first to be scored at equal strength – as Avangard rediscovered the powerful attacking form it showed in the first two games of this Eastern Conference semi-final.
The third period brought some unexpected goaltending decisions from Metallurg. First, after 46 minutes, Ivan Nalimov came into the game in place of Koshechkin. Changing a losing goalie isn’t exactly unusual, but this kind of move more commonly seen at the intermission, or immediately after allowing a goal. However, subsequent events offered a clue to Ilya Vorobyov’s thinking: at the first opportunity, Nalimov was called to the bench – fully 12 minutes from the end, with the teams at equal strength. The incoming goalie, it’s worth noting is younger and faster than the veteran Koshechkin and thus better able to make that sprint to the sidelines when needed.
And the gambit worked. Metallurg played a full three minutes with an empty net, avoided giving up possession and falling further behind, then got on the scoresheet thanks to Anatoly Nikontsev. At 1-4 with 10 to play, it wasn’t exactly squeaky bum time for Avangard, but Vorobyov’s bold decision was ruffling feathers. So much so that in the 51st minute, with the teams again reduced to 4-on-4, Nalimov went back to the bench and Magnitka sought another goal. This time, it almost backfired; Grigory Dronov had to race back down the ice to hack away a goalbound clearance, then Yakovlev was forced into an interference minor as he halted another attempted breakaway.
That was game over. The Avangard power play continued its good work and Nalimov, back between the piping, could not stop Nikolai Prokhorkin beating him on the short side when the former Metallurg forward was able to find ample space in front of the net. That was the end of the scoring ... until Wednesday’s decisive showdown.