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Home Main Bids with a squeak: SKA and Ak Bars win again and lead 2-0 in the second round of the KHL playoffs
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Bids with a squeak: SKA and Ak Bars win again and lead 2-0 in the second round of the KHL playoffs

On the eve of the second game against SKA, Torpedo found itself in a difficult position. In the event of another loss, Nizhny Novgorod could have allowed the St. Petersburg club to take a 2-0 lead and create a nice cushion before the away games. As a result, they needed to win on the road and even the score.

That said, the result of the first game in many ways can be called unfair. Igor Larionov’s wards had the advantage, created many more chances but lost in overtime – 1:2. For example, their expected goals (xG) rate was 2.3 versus their opponent’s 1.3. This time, the fans, who took six buses to the game, were a source of additional support for the Avtovaz team.

In the previous game, the fans waited until the final period for the first goal; in this one, the hockey players didn’t wait long. The home team started the game aggressively and immediately earned a power play. The proverbial “It was bad luck, but bad luck helped” worked, as the Nizhny Novgorod players managed to open the scoring in the penalty shootout. Andrei Belevich ran on the counterattack down the right wing and tried to pass to his teammate on the left. The puck hit the tip of Aleksandr Nikishin and flew back to the Belarusian, who calmly sent it into the near corner. This has already become a trend for SKA, as they missed the power play for the fourth time in this season’s playoffs.

Rotenberg’s men responded appropriately – as befits a major trophy contender. Only minutes later, Vasily Glotov restored the balance and scored his fifth goal in the Gagarin Cup. It’s hard to believe that the forward started the season with the modest Sochi, but scored seven times during the regular season.

More than once, the St. Petersburg team had quick bursts and caught their opponent on the attack. In some episodes, they were lucky. For example, Belevich lost his balance in the own zone, and Nikita Gusev went one-on-one with Ivan Kulbakov, but couldn’t outplay him. I couldn’t help but recall the goal by Nikolai Prokhorkin and the fall of Nikolai Burenov in the first game. Another counterattack by the home team on 15 minutes brought success. Valentin Zykov drove down the right sideline and delivered an excellent cross to Mikhail Vorobiev. He got in front of the goalie, planted the puck under his arm and sent it into the net. Once again, Belevich played poorly, leaving his opponent alone on the court.

In the second half the teams continued to delight the crowd with outstanding, productive hockey. The Northern Capital finally had an open game with plenty of pucks. Much of this was thanks to the visitors’ lack of defense. They continued to make fouls and allowed their opponents to mount dangerous counterattacks. And even Kulbakov was unable to help his teammates.

For example, during the Emil Galimov’s goal, Daniil Bokun let his opponent steal from him near the other side. Then Nikita Kamalov was left all alone on the rink. His first shot was saved by the goalie, but then the defenseman, who had no one to watch him, collected a shot from a negative angle. Luck smiled on the St. Petersburg club. The puck hit Kulbakov and flew into the net. Later Kamalov tricked two defenders and gave the ball to the free Nikita Gusev, who had his chance.

In the third quarter the Avtozavodtsy team always found strength to create a momentum and restore the intrigue. On 27 minutes, Artyom Mikheev evened the score, setting his stick under a cross by a teammate. Larionov’s men immediately missed twice. Belevich was quicker than everyone else on the rebound, sealed his double-double, and reduced the deficit to its minimum. Finally, just before the break Mykola Kovalenko dodged a defender and converted the majority – 4:5.

The final period was quite the opposite of the previous one. Having been advised by the coaching staff, the home team went on the defensive. They settled in their own zone and didn’t even try to advance, throwing the puck away at the first opportunity. That didn’t help contain the visitors at first. As soon as they returned to the ice, they created several great scoring chances. For example, Alexey Kruchinin, after receiving a pass right in front of the goal, narrowly missed the far post. And then Nikolaev repulsed dangerous shots by Kirill Voronin and Vasily Atanasov.

But gradually, the Torpedo players lost their strength. SKA also benefited from an almost six-minute stretch without a break. On top of all the troubles for the Avtokomo team, Maxim Letunov got an unnecessary suspension. As a result, Larionov’s team didn’t even manage to mount a final assault. Two minutes before the buzzer, Kulbakov was replaced by a sixth player, but that didn’t help either. On the contrary, Rotenberg’s charges nearly hit an empty net. Nikolaev came close. He threw the puck toward the net, but it hit the back of the net.

The Petersburg club took advantage of a large number of mistakes by their opponent on defense and earned a well-deserved win, leading 2-0 in the series. The Nizhny Novgorod team would have to rebound on home ice.

Admiral prepared to take on the Ak Bars in the second game. In the first game, as well as Torpedo, Leonid Tambiev’s squad lost by a narrow margin, 2-3. The coach cited the officials’ controversial decisions as one of the main reasons for the defeat. Kazan scored all the goals on the power play and scored twice in the opening period in a five-on-three format. The return of Anton Berlyov had to help the team from Primorsky Krai a little. He scored the decisive goal in the sixth meeting with Salavat Yulaev, but then dropped out of the lineup because of injury. In total, the forward scored four points (2 + 2) in the first round of the playoffs.

He managed to open the scoring in the 15th minute, though the hockey player should rather thank a lucky ricochet for that. After a pass from behind the net, Berlev, who pushed his opponent off with his body, took a lucky shot on goal, but on the way to it, the puck hit his defender and literally flew over Timur Bilyalov. Vasily Tokranov was also unlucky. He tried to clear the puck from the line, but his stick got caught on the post.

That was a big unfairness, since Ak Bars had the initiative. The experienced Alexander Radulov and Vadim Shipachev were brilliant on offense, not only looking for their partners but also trying to score. But Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s charges lacked a little bit of luck. After Stanislav Galiev’s shot, the goalie was saved by the bar, and then Ilya Safonov miraculously missed hitting an empty corner. Another 16 shots were saved by Nikita Serebryakov.

Still, things couldn’t go on like this for long. After the break the advantage of the favorite became even more serious, and on 28 minutes he restored the balance. Moreover, not long before that Tambiev’s squad had been reduced to ten and had conceded the equalizer. Safonov took advantage of an excellent pass from Dmitriy Voronkov on the defensive end and sent the puck past Serebryakov.

The decisive goal came from Shipachev, who had previously only provided assists in the playoffs. He tried to pass to his teammate from the right wing, but the puck bounced back to him. The forward didn’t take long to send it into the open near corner. Serebryakov shifted a little to the center and didn’t have time to return.

The Admirals had enough time left to finish. On top of that, Tokranov earned a minor disciplinary penalty. The guests took the goalie off and stormed the net. Only by some miracle, Bilyalov didn’t miss any more shots. He saved 22 shots in all.Ak Bars won their second win in a row and, like SKA, secured a comfortable lead before their trip to the Far East.

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