Friday, 5 May 2017

KHL - Playoffs - Round 2 - Ak Bars Kazan v Avangard Omsk - Ak Bars Win Series 4-2

Game 1 - Avangard v Ak Bars 1-2 OT - Thursday, March 09, 2017

There was more late drama for Ak Bars in a post-season full of last-minute goals, but Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s team shrugged off Avangard’s last-gasp leveller to win this one in overtime. Artyom Lukoyanov got the vital goal 117 seconds into the extras to give the Kazan team the first victory of the series.
Lukoyanov collected the puck after Rafael Batyrshin dumped it in the corner. Holding off the attentions of Pyotr Khokhryakov, the forward managed to circle around to the face-off sport where a shooting lane opened up for him. With Mikhail Varnakov closing in on home goalie Dominik Furch, Lukoyanov’s shot squeezed through the Czech’s five-hole; agonizing for Avangard, awesome for Ak Bars. Prior to the series between Avangard and Ak Bars, few expected a high-scoring clash. The two teams went into action more or less evenly matched, while Ak Bars had come through a tight, low-scoring series against Salavat Yulaev to reach this stage of the competition. Those expectations proved to be spot on for the opening game of the Eastern Conference Semi-final. A solitary goal, scored by Ak Bars captain Alexander Svitov just after the halfway point, seemed destined to settle the outcome until his Avangard counterpart Evgeny Medvedev tied the game in the last minute. Chances were hardly abundant at either end: neither team managed more than 10 shots on goal in any period, as both sides focused on careful defense throughout the game. Even the penalty count was fairly low, despite the visitor’s Atte Ohtamaa picking up a minor for tripping inside the first minute. Svitov’s opener came on the power play, with Ak Bars making use of the extra space around Furch’s net to force home the only goal of the game. Vladimir Tkachyov started the move, marauding down the right and picking out Jiri Sekac in front of the net. Sekac, who had sneaked clear of Vladimir Sobotka, got his shot away; Svitov got the crucial touch as the puck bounced around in the slot. It looked set to be the winning goal until Avangard’s final push. The home team called a time out in the 59th minute, and Fyodor Kanareikin found the words to inspire his men. Play restarted with a face-off just outside the Ak Bars zone, and Avangard’s six men won possession. The puck was dumped into the corner, Ilya Mikheyev gave chase and passed to Anton Burdasov. Burdasov duly fed Medvedev at the point, and the D-man’s shot flew through some heavy traffic around Emil Garipov’s net to tie the scores on 59:11. Avangard, briefly, had found salvation, but Lukoyanov’s winner soon shattered the home team’s hopes of a winning start.

Game 2 - Avangard v Ak Bars 0-2 - Saturday, March 11, 2017

Ak Bars took control of this Eastern Conference Semi-final series with a 2-0 win in Omsk, setting up a 2-0 series lead as the action heads to Kazan next week.
Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s 1,000th game as head coach in Russia’s top league was an illustration of the man’s gameplan. For more than a decade, Bilyaletdinov has built winning teams on solid defensive foundations, and in Omsk his players executed that strategy to perfection once again. Indeed, after producing just six shots on goal in the first two periods, some might argue that this was almost a caricature of the Ak Bars style, an effort to stifle the opposition taken some way beyond its logical conclusion and inviting allegations of harming the game by virtue of its commitment to defensive caution and patient counter-attacks. But the key feature of Bilyaletdinov’s coaching career is not defensive play and shut-outs, it’s victories. And, not for the first time, his tactics came up trumps in a big game. Ak Bars played a waiting game, allowing the home team to see wave after wave of offense crash against a wall of visiting D-men before capitalizing late on as fatigue and frustration took its toll on the host. For much of the meeting the visitor concentrated on neutralizing the threat posed by the likes of Vladimir Sobotka and Anton Burdasov, key figures among the Avangard forwards at various stages of this season. That task was accomplished successfully: the home team kept Emil Garipov busy in goal, but rarely carved open the visiting rearguard to expose the netminder to series danger. Then, as the game moved into the last 10 minutes, the Ak Bars offense stealthily moved into action. Mikhail Varnakov tested Domink Furch from long range, Jiri Sekac went close with a chance off a rebound and Vladimir Tkachyov got free but could not beat the goalie from a tight angle. Suddenly, there was pressure on Avangard. Mikhail Yunkov picked up a hooking penalty, and for the first time in the game, Ak Bars had a power play, with four and a half minutes to play. That was the chance the visitor needed. Fyodor Malykhin grabbed the vital goal in the 57th minute. Justin Azevedo teamed up with Tkachyov behind the Avangard net to get the puck back out in front; Malykhin, centrally positioned just inside the right-hand circle, despatched a one-timer past Furch. Avangard, facing the prospect of giving its rival a 2-0 lead before the action moves to Kazan, looked for inspiration in the closing minutes. Off came Furch as Fyodor Kanareikin called a time out to try to inspire his team to an equalizer. The gamble failed: Michal Jordan won back possession on the boards and, from inside his own zone, sent the puck all the way up the ice and into the empty net. Victory for Ak Bars, 2-0 on the night and a 2-0 lead in the series with home ice advantage to come.

Game 3 - Ak Bars v Avangard 3-4 OT - Monday, March 13, 2017

Avangard seems intent on doing things the hard way in this series, flirting with allowing Ak Bars a 3-0 lead before rallying to get off the mark with an overtime victory. David Booth got the decisive goal nine minutes into the extras. The D-man started the move by keeping the puck alive at the point, and finished it by tucking away Evgeny Medvedev’s pass to the slot after the Avangard captain had deceived the home defense by feinting to shoot. For a team that looked to be heading to a third successive defeat at the first intermission, the goal transformed the whole complexion of the series. For Medvedev, it was the third assist of the night. The defenseman also had a hand in Valentin Pyanov’s 58th-minute game-tying goal. After Avangard spent much of the final stanza trying desperately to tie the game, a power play late on gave it one last chance. Medvedev found Ilya Zubov in a dangerous position, the forward looked to a swing a pass out across the ice but saw the puck get caught up in Pyanov’s skates and, amid the confusion, the 25-year-old fired in a shot to claim his first playoff goal of the year … and a timely one. Earlier, it was a very different story. Ak Bars, buoyed by two road wins in Omsk, took little time to settle into the comforts of home, rattling two goals in the first six minutes of this game. The game was just 95 seconds old when Fyodor Lukoyanov put the home team ahead, wrapping up a careful build-up off assists from Rafael Batyrshin and Fyodor Malykhin. A few minutes later Ak Bars had a power play, David Booth was called for kneeing, and Andrei Popov converted the opportunity as his stick got to Albert Yarullin’s shot from the blue line. But Avangard hit back quickly with Zubov’s first goal of the night, finishing off a beautiful passing move with Ilya Mikheyev and Jonas Ahnelov to halve the deficit and establish a vital bridgehead in the game. At first, though, it seemed that the home team would move on serenely especially after Popov conjured up another wonderful play to set up Anton Glinkin for a third goal before the first intermission. At this stage, it seemed that Ak Bars was well on its way to taking a 3-0 series lead, but Avangard began its revival. Zubov got his second of the night on a power play, wrapping up another neat passing move to halve the deficit. Then Zubov helped out on Pyanov’s equalizer, and suddenly the game, and perhaps the series, was transformed.
Game 4 - Ak Bars v Avangard 2-1 - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ak Bars is just one game away from defeating Avangard for the third time in KHL playoff action, but fans in Kazan endured an anxious third period before their heroes delivered the victory. At first it all seemed straightforward for the host. A powerful first period saw Ak Bars take the game its opponent right from the start, and that pressure yielded two unanswered goals. Captain Alexander Svitov got the first in the 10th minute, getting away from Vitaly Menshikov on the boards and heading to the face-off spot before shooting on goal. The attempt did not look all that dangerous when it left Svitov’s stick, but goalie Dominik Furch fumbled his attempted glove save and swatted the puck against the bar and in off his own back as he flailed desperately around the crease. Then the in-form Andrei Popov found the net late in the opening stanza, adding to his goal and assist in Monday’s meeting. This time he got his stick to Damir Musin’s shot from the point and dragged the puck across the face of the wrong-footed Furch and into the bottom corner. Avangard successfully clawed back a two-goal deficit after the first period on Monday, and sought to repeat that trick again tonight. However, the home defense was in a less obliging mood, stonewalling the Omsk offense in the middle session. That all changed early in the third, when Nikolai Lemtyugov halved the deficit. Vladimir Sobotka made it, cutting out an attempted clearance and kickstarting an attack down the left. As the Ak Bars defense scrambled to cut out his path to goal, the Czech paused and saw Lemtyugov unmarked in the opposite circle. An accurate pass gave his team-mate a routine chance to finish as Emil Garipov struggled to shut down the angles in time. Suddenly the balance of play was different. Avangard could see a way back, Ak Bars faced more pressure on its defense. The tension rose, with neither side able to grab a vital goal. In the closing moments a penalty on Albert Yarullin handed Avangard a power play, and with Furch called to the bench the visitor finished with a 6-on-4 advantage. It was time for players to put their bodies on the line, and Mikhail Varnakov made a huge block to deny Avangard a scoring chance. Sobotka almost forced overtime in the dying seconds with a powerful shot from the circle, but Garipov held on and Ak Bars claimed the victory. The action heads back to Siberia on Friday, with Avangard needing a win on home ice to prolong this series and remain in contention for a Conference Final showdown against Metallurg.
Game 5 - Avangard v Ak Bars 4-1 - Friday, March 17, 2017

Life without the club mascot proved unlucky for Ak Bars as Avangard powered to a home victory that kept the series alive. Goals from Nikolai Lemtyugov, Anton Burdasov and Ilya Zubov steered the home team to the win, while the Ak Bars mascot was denied admission to the game following a mix-up between the two teams. It emerged that Ak Bars had mistakenly registered the costumed character as a regular fan, and not a performer. As such, he could not enter the arena with his face concealed; if the host allowed this, it could face a big fine. In the absence of its talisman, Ak Bars missed the chance to wrap up the series in five games and must wait until Sunday at the earliest to book a Conference Final showdown against Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The opening goal came in the 13th minute, created by Avangard’s long-serving forward Alexander Perezhogin. He halted Stepan Zakharchuk’s attempt to bring the puck out of the visitor’s zone and delivered the pass for Lemtyugov to fire home the opening goal. The first period belonged to Avangard, but after the intermission Ak Bars raised its game and began to pose a serious threat to Dominik Furch’s net. Even so, Avangard doubled its lead with a counter-attacking goal of deceptive simplicity midway through the second period. As Evgeny Medvedev and Yegor Martynov tidied up play behind their own net, an attempted line change went decisively in the home team’s favor. Martynov slung the puck in front of the benches as Burdasov was joining the game. The forward collected the pass and advanced to shoot past Emil Garipov from the right-hand circle. Ak Bars, much improved the middle stanza, found itself facing a mountain to climb. It got even better for the home team early in the third. Beginning the session on the power play, Avangard quickly added a third goal when Medvedev found Zubov in space between the hash marks and the forward took two touches to put the puck beyond Garipov. Ak Bars finally got on the scoreboard in response to Zubov’s goal. Exploiting a power play of its own, the visitor advanced. Vladimir Tkachyov fired the puck into the danger zone and after Alexander Svitov’s close-range shot was blocked, Jiri Sekac put away the rebound to offer his team a way back into the game. But any hope of a revival, and potentially a series win tonight, was ended when Burdasov got his second of the game in the 51st minute. This time, Vladimir Sobotka was the architect, kick-starting the play on the Ak Bars blue line, exchanging passes with Burdasov and shooting the puck through a crowd of players in front of the net. Somehow, the disk danced through a forest of stick and skate and arrived for Burdasov to shoot into an unguarded target and put the game beyond the visitor’s reach. Ak Bars had one big chance to salvage an unlikely recovery, enjoying an extended 5-on-3 advantage after Perezhogin was ejected for boarding Zakharchuk and Lemtyugov got a minor, but the home defense closed out the game without undue alarm. The action continues on Saturday in Kazan, with Ak Bars looking to wrap up the series at the second attempt.
Game 6 - Ak Bars v Avangard 5-0 - Sunday, March 19, 2017

A ruthless performance from Ak Bars gave Avangard no hope of prolonging this series into a game seven showdown. From the moment Fyodor Malykhin put the host ahead on the first power play of the night, there was only one winner. Three unanswered goals in the second period put the outcome beyond any doubt, and in the third Albert Yarullin wrapped up an emphatic victory with another PP marker. After a subdued start to proceedings as the Tatneft Arena observed a minute’s silence in memory of renowned player, coach and commentator Sergei Gimayev, the game sparked to life almost immediately. Avangard’s Erik Gustafsson picked up a tripping penalty and Ak Bars converted the power play in the fifth minute. Justin Azevedo attacked down the left and swung the puck across the ice to the unmarked Vladimir Tkachyov. He drilled it back across the face of Dominik Furch’s net and Malykhin was on hand to turn it into the goal. With a lead to defend, Ak Bars did just that: Avangard managed just three shots on Emil Garipov’s net in the opening stanza, and rarely looked capable of tying the scores. The second period began in much the same manner as the first. Avangard took an early penalty, Ak Bars took full advantage. Jiri Sekac was the scorer this time, enjoying a straightforward finish from the slot after Malykhin supplied the killer pass from the goal line. The visitor’s problems quickly increased. Barely a minute later, Artyom Lukoyanov made it 3-0 with Malykhin at the heart of things again. He advanced down the right on the counter attack and, with the Avangard defense flat-footed, Lukoyanov collected a pass between the hash marks and fired home a wrister that left Furch with no chance. There was still more to come. Sergei Orlov took a double-minor for roughing, and he had barely returned to the game when Tkachyov added a fourth to go with his three earlier assists. The play started with Stepan Zakharchuk’s pass from blue line to blue line, picking out Andrei Chibisov. The D-man continued his own advance and took a return pass from Chibisov to move into a shooting position at the left-hand face-off spot. However, he spotted Tkachyov unmarked on the opposite side of the ice and set up his team-mate to leave Furch with too much ground to recover as the shot came in. The game was done and the final stanza lacked some of the intensity of what had gone before. But there was still time for one last flourish from the host, setting the stamp on a series win with a late power play goal from Yarullin. His slap shot from a central position was too good for Oleg Shilin, Avangard’s replacement goalie, and completed the scoring. Ak Bars now advances to play Metallurg in a mouth-watering match-up between two old rivals. Both teams have hopes of making history by becoming the first to lift the Gagarin Cup three times, and the action promises to be relentless when the series starts in the Urals on Thursday.

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