Metallurg twice came from behind to claim the first victory in the Eastern Conference final series against local rival Traktor. Two goals in the third period turned the game around, with Arkhip Nekolenko potting the winner.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk 3 Traktor Chelyabinsk 2 (1-1, 0-1, 2-0)

(Metallurg leads the series 1-0)

The 2022 Eastern Conference final has all the ingredients of a classic. First plays second, based on the regular season rankings. The two teams are local rivals, based in neighboring cities in the Southern Urals. And there’s an intriguing back story as Metallurg looks to underpin its status as one of the behemoths of the East, while Traktor is out to confirm its own position as the most improved team in the KHL this season.

The visitor, though, had to continue without forward Lukas Sedlak, who was injured by Grigory Panin in game four of the previous round. The Czech international had 6 (3+3) points from eight playoff games up to that point and his on-going absence is keenly felt on Anvar Gatiyatulin’s team. However, Traktor successfully wrapped up its battle against Salavat Yulaev in six games and made a positive start here.

The opening exchanges were fairly even, but Metallurg ran into penalty trouble midway through the first period. Andrei Chibisov double minor for high sticking was followed by a cross-checking call on Maxim Karpov, and Traktor took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play. The visitor set up camp in front of Vasily Koshechkin’s net and got the opening goal when Vitaly Kravtsov steered Lawrence Pilut’s feed past the home goalie. Kravtsov is already a renowned playoff specialist; Pilut is enjoying a sudden upturn in production this post-season and his assist today makes it 4 (1+3) points in his last three games.

Traktor seemed poised to take its lead into the first intermission, but Artyom Zemchyonok had other ideas. Like Pilut, he isn’t the most prolific of blue liners with 21 goals in 424 KHL games to date. Today, though, he came up with an important tying tally on 19:21, smashing home Nikolai Goldobin’s feed to give Roman Will no chance.

Traktor regained the lead in unusual circumstances. The visitor was on the PK when Brendan Leipsic inexplicably stood waiting behind his own net as Yegor Yakovlev moved up the ice. The defenseman, without a backward glance, dropped the puck in the center of his own zone and Alexei Byvaltsev was on it in a flash. The Traktor forward got round Leipsic and headed for goal, colliding with Koshechkin and rolling into the net along with the puck.

That was the only goal of the middle frame, something that Magnitka may have found hard to fathom. The home team dictated much of the play, outshooting Traktor 16-5 and enjoying more than twice as much possession in the offensive zone. However, Will stood firm to preserve his team’s slender lead until the second intermission.

Late in the middle frame, though, Nick Bailen took an interference call. This time, the home power play got it right. The pressure intensified on Will’s net and the Czech goalie made several good saves before Philippe Maillet sent the puck back to Linus Hultstrom on the point. The Swedish defenseman advanced, evaded the sliding form of Alexei Potapov as he lay down on the ice, and fired a shot to Will’s short side to tie the game once again.

Another Bailen penalty gave Traktor more problems. The visitor survived that PK but absorbed more pressure. A minute after Bailen’s return, Metallurg went in front for the first time in the game. Grigory Dronov, not a defenseman noted for his attacking flair, is another player who has come to life in this year’s playoffs. Prior to today’s game he had 10 (4+6) points from 12 games and there’s a new-found confidence in his attacking play. That manifested itself as he danced round an opponent in center ice and advanced to set up Arkhip Nekolenko between the hash marks. The forward took a couple of steps ahead, got away from Sergei Telegin’s attempted poke check and fired over the glove to make it 3-2.

That was Nekolenko’s first playoff goal, and it proved decisive. Traktor whipped up a storm in the final moments, unleashing a flurry of shots on Koshechkin’s net and obliging Yakovlev to make a game-saving intervention on the slot to preserve that 3-2 lead. But the home team held on to take the first win of the series. The action continues on Tuesday.

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Related clubs

Metallurg (Magnitogorsk) Metallurg (Magnitogorsk)
Traktor (Chelyabinsk) Traktor (Chelyabinsk)
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