We saw the two Western Conference teams who advanced to battle for the right to play for the KHL's Gagarin Cup in yesterday's article, and tonight we'll look at the Eastern Conference as they reduce the pool of teams from four to two. Just as we saw in the Western Conference, seeds 1, 2, 3, and 5 remain, and two will move on.
Ak Bars Kazan was the top team in the Eastern Conference with 104 points while Salavat Yulaev Ufa earned 88 points through their play this season, capturing the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Salavat is a veteran team, though, so this series could prove interesting.
GAME ONE: Both teams opened the game cautiously as they began to look for breakdowns, but there would be none in the opening period. It wasn't until 9:38 into the second period that Dmitry Obukhov put Ak Bars Kazan on the board. Just under five minutes later, though, Salavat drew even on the powerplay when Antti Pihlstrom's shot found the back of the net. It looked good for Ak Bars in the third period when Janne Pesonen scored at the 7:19 mark, but Pihlstrom struck again on the powerplay just 38 seconds later to knot the game at 2-2 again. Salavat pulled ahead at the 13:52 mark when Nikita Filatov snapped a shot past Konstantin Barulin to pull ahead 3-2. Iiro Tarkki held the fort through the final 6:08, and Salavat escaped with the 3-2 victory! SALAVAT YULAEV UFA LEADS 1-0.
GAME TWO: Defence was the name of the game in the second game, but the game started with a goal 16:54 into the first period as Salavat's Stefan Ruzicka put the visitors up 1-0. Aside from that lone goal, both goaltenders were perfect otherwise. Salavat would double their lead with 23 seconds left as Sergei Zinovyev deposited the puck into the empty net for a 2-0 victory and a 2-0 series lead. Iiro Tarkki was outstanding as he pitched the 37-save shutout. SALAVAT YULAEV UFA LEADS 2-0.
GAME THREE: As the series shifted to Ufa, the fifth-ranked team in the Western Conference had the top-seeded team on the ropes. Much like Game One, though, both teams came out quite tentatively as Game Three proved crucial. However, Ak Bars would open the scoring late in the second period as Jarkko Immonen notched his third goal of the playoffs with 2:52 to play in the middle frame. 1:17 later and Ak Bars had a two-goal lead as Denis Golubev doubled the lead. Ak Bars would hold the lead through the third period, and Kirill Petrov would ice the game with his empty-netter with just seven seconds left. Konstantin Barulin would wrap up a 28-save shutout in his display of netminding. SALAVAT YULAEV UFA LEADS 2-1.
GAME FOUR: This game was quite different that the previous game as goals were traded back and forth. Salavat's Stefan Ruzicka and Ak Bars' Dmitry Obukhov sent the teams to the first intermission tied at 1-1. A pair of Ak Bars goals by Niko Kapanen were book-ended by Salavat goals from Antti Pihlstrom and Vitaly Atyushov to make it a 3-3 game after two periods. Kirill Petrov gave the Snow Leopards a 4-3 lead just 1:49 into the third period, and Niko Kapanen finished off the hat trick on the powerplay with 9:46 to play. Konstantin Barulin would hold steady the rest of the way, and the visiting teams were now 4-0 in this series. SERIES TIED AT 2-2.
GAME FIVE: Like Game Four, the two teams traded goals through the three periods. Ak Bars' Jarkko Immonen and Salavat's Alexander Svitov made it 1-1 after twenty minutes, and Ilya Nikulin put Ak Bars up 2-1 on a powerplay goal with 2:12 left in the second period. Just 21 seconds into the third, Salavat's Igor Musatov put the teams even once again. Ilya Nikulin struck again on the powerplay at 7:06 to give Ak Bars a 3-2 lead, but Salavat rallied once more as Stefan Ruzicka found the back of the net with 4:22 to play. The game would need extra time, and the final sounded at 9:45 of overtime when Ak Bars' Alexei Morozov ripped a shot home to give Ak Bars Kazan the 4-3 overtime win and the lead in the series. AK BARS KAZAN LEADS 3-2.
GAME SIX: If this series hadn't had enough excitement yet, the game in Ufa would provide more intrigue as these two teams came out firing once again. Alexander Svitov opened the scoring for Salavat just 5:17 in, and Salavat would double that lead 19:45 later as Alexander Stepanov scored at 5:02 of the second period. Kirill Petrov would pull Ak Bars within one goal with his marker at 10:46, and Ak Bars would tie the game 4:01 later as Jarkko Immonen notched his third of the playoffs. The two teams traded goals in the third period - Alexander Stepanov for Salavat and Dmitry Obukhov for Ak Bars - so we were off to extra time once more. After nothing was decided in the first extra frame, the second overtime period saw a winner scored as Salavat defenceman Brent Sopel scored at 15:50 of double-overtime for the 4-3 win. SERIES TIED AT 3-3.
GAME SEVEN: One game would decide the fate of two teams. It started well for Salavat as Brent Sopel scored 13:51 into the game. Ak Bars would even the game just 1:53 into the second period as Danis Zaripov scored on the powerplay, but Salavat would restore the one-goal lead just 1:04 later as Yury Trubachyov scored his first of the playoffs. Kirill Petrov would tie the game once again for Ak Bars at 4:49 with his fourth goal, but Salavat would rally again as Igor Mirnov scored on the powerplay at 9:32. Ak Bars continued to press, though, and Nikolai Zherdev would make it a 3-3 game at the 13:25 mark of the period that would carry through to the intermission. With one period to play, this game was still up for grabs. Just 2:09 into the final frame, Alexei Tereshchenko put Ak Bars Kazan up 4-3. The teams went toe-to-toe as they traded chances down the stretch, but Konstantin Barulin put up a wall to keep Salavat from scoring, and Ak Bars Kazan skated to the 4-3 win and the 4-3 series victory. AK BARS KAZAN WINS 4-3.
Avangard Omsk finished atop the Chernyshev Division with 102 points, earning the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Traktor Chelyabinsk qualified for the playoffs as the third-seeded team after posting 98 points in the Eastern Conference. With so little difference in their point totals, it looked like this series would be a closely-contested affair.
GAME ONE: The fans in Omsk were looking for a big win, but it was Traktor that came out strong. Petri Kontiola scored 4:18 into the game on the powerplay, and they doubled their lead 4:10 later when Valery Nichushkin scored his third goal. The two teams traded chances over the next forty minutes, but Traktor once again added to their lead. Andrei Popov scored at 9:36 of the third period, and Evgeny Kuznetsov added a powerplay goal just 43 seconds later to make it 4-0. Petri Kontiola would score his second of the game with two minutes to play, and Michael Garnett turned aside all 33 shots he faced as Traktor Chelyabinsk won 5-0. TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK LEADS 1-0.
GAME TWO: In what may have seemed like a recurring nightmare, Traktor came out blazing once again. Valery Nichushkin scored just 3:11 in, but the chances were clearly in favor of Traktor. Both teams tightened up through the second period as defence took over, but Traktor broke through once again in the third period as Nichushkin scored at 12:54 of the final frame to make it 2-0. 1:22 after that, Petri Kontiola added another goal, and Michael Garnett was lights-out once again as he pitched a 21-save shutout in the 3-0 win. TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK LEADS 2-0.
GAME THREE: If it seems like the first two games followed the same script - score early, play solid defence, and then put the game away in the third period - be prepared for another game written like the previous two. Alexei Vasilchenko scored 1:35 into the first period to put Traktor up 1-0, followed by two periods of chances thwarted and defensive plays. 5:40 into the third period, Maxim Yakutsenya made it 2-0, and Andrei Popov made it 3-0 just 47 seconds after that. Again, Michael Garnett was perfect in this game as he stopped all 24 shots in leading Traktor to the 3-0 victory. TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK LEADS 3-0.
GAME FOUR: After not scoring in the previous three games, something had to give for Avangard after they had dug a hole that may be insurmountable. The first goal wouldn't come in the first period, and it wasn't scored by a Traktor player! 3:37 into the second period saw Sergei Kalinin score to give Avangard their first goal and lead in the series. 2:49 after that, Avangard's Dmitry Syomin was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked on a breakaway by Alexei Vasilchenko. Syomin went high on the glove side to beat Garnett on the penalty shot, and Avangard led 2-0. 11:29 into the third period, Traktor's Stanislav Chistov scored on the powerplay to cut the deficit to 2-1, but Avangard's Tomas Zaborsky would wrap the game up with his goal at 18:52 to give Avangard the 3-1 victory. TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK LEADS 3-1.
GAME FIVE: If there was light at the end of the tunnel for Avangard as they returned home, Traktor buried those hopes quickly in the middle frame of Game Five. Maxim Karpov, Jan Bulis on the powerplay, and Maxim Yakutsenya on the powerplay put Traktor up 3-0 after 40 minutes. Evgeny Kuznetsov added one more goal with 1:24 to go in the game, and Michael Garnett recorded his fourth shutout in this series alone with another 33-save performance as Traktor Chelyabinsk won Game Five by a 4-0 score. TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK WINS 4-1.
Just like in the Western Conference, the top team and the third-seeded team will meet for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the Gagarin Cup Final. If I'm Ak Bars Kazan, I'm very concerned about how well Traktor Chelyabinsk is playing defensively, specifically goaltender Michael Garnett. If I'm Traktor Chelyabinsk, I'm certainly aware of Ak Bars Kazan's ability to rally when down and how explosive their offence can be. The Eastern Conference Final should be a good one!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!