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Home News Champion’s Character: CSKA earned a strong victory over Ak Bars in the seventh game of the finals and won the Gagarin Cup
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Champion’s Character: CSKA earned a strong victory over Ak Bars in the seventh game of the finals and won the Gagarin Cup

Photo by Joshua Sukoff on Unsplash

This season’s Gagarin Cup final followed the same scenario as last season. Only then, CSKA managed to bounce back from a 3-3 deficit in the series, but now they lost their advantage and allowed Ak Bars to get back into the contest. Last year they defeated Metallurg on the road in game seven. A year later they intended to repeat the achievement.

On the other hand, the Kazan fans’ incredible support helped the visitors. According to media reports, local hockey fans began to line up at Tatneft Arena right after the end of the sixth meeting. Very quickly all tickets ran out at the box office, and could only be purchased on free listing sites for an impressive sum. Also on the home team’s side was the successful experience of playing seventh games in the playoff finals under Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, albeit more than a decade ago. They beat Lokomotiv in 2009 and HC MVD in 2010.

The return of their key defenseman Vyacheslav Voynov could be a big plus for the team. He participated in the warm-up, but missed his second game in a row because of injury. On the other hand, Christian Henkel was called up again. Thus, the roster has remained unchanged. Sergey Fedorov, on the other hand, did some adjustments. Konstantin Okulov and Vladislav Kamenev were joined by Maksim Mamin, who recovered from his injury. And Prokhor Poltapov, who scored the only puck in Game 5, moved back into the lineup with Maksim Sorkin and Mikhail Grigorenko. Finally, Sergei Plotnikov, Semyon Pankratov and Vitaly Abramov made up the final three on offense.

Not surprisingly, the fans in Kazan started the game more actively, encouraged by the fans. In the early minutes, they stifled their opponent with pressure and executed several scoring chances, which didn’t end with any dangerous shots. Kirill Petrov soon let them down. In the other side, he elbowed Darren Dietze in the head when he tried to pull a power play. The referees even looked at the replay, but ultimately got away with a minor disciplinary penalty.

CSKA played poorly for the majority and didn’t really threaten Timur Bilyalov’s possessions, but they grew in confidence. The second half was dominated by the visitors. They calmly penetrated into the opponent’s zone, spread out and acted as if they had an uneven lineup. They were also able to easily get the puck to the back of the net, as Kazan’s defenders often made positioning mistakes and lost their opponents.

Bilyalov, however, once again played to his utmost ability. The goalie seemed to have caught courage at the buzzer and made save after save. Two of his saves were especially memorable. First, Timur prevented Kamenev from driving the puck into the backfield, skillfully setting his pads aside, and then at the last moment he trapped the shell almost on the line after a ricochet from his partner. The visitors’ advantage in shots was overwhelming (14-5) in the opening period, but they failed to put Bilyalov through.

The more unexpected goal came shortly before halftime. Vadim Shipachev made a interception just above the opponent’s blue line, and Petrov made a terrific solo run down the right flank and slid the puck across the perimeter for a goalmouth shot into the near post by Reideborn. The Swede, who was nearly out of work, couldn’t save the puck.

The home team’s joy didn’t last long. The visitors had all but 15 seconds to restore the balance. They won the rebound in the away half, and Anton Slepyshev landed a nasty shot from the middle. Bilyalov saved in more difficult situations, but in this episode he did not see the puck from behind the backs of his and other hockey players, and it flew between his legs.

Events continued to unfold at an unreal pace. First, the Army team locked their opponents in the zone without allowing a turnover, but they didn’t score. They then went on a three-on-one, but Dietz planted a guileless shot into Bilyalov’s chest. Then Petrov had a great chance to be the main hero of the game, but didn’t capitalize on his one-on-one, as Reideborn had his pads closed. Next, Kirill Adamchuk unexpectedly hit the crossbar.

In the middle of the half, Kazan again showed flair for realization and punished the Muscovites for their mistake. Under pressure, a CSKA defender fed the puck to Alexander Radulov, who delivered a pass to Dmitri Voronkov, who beat his defender for a moment and slotted it into the far corner. Reideborn failed again.

Another team could have broken down in such a situation, but not the Red and Blue. Three minutes later, they pressured the home team in a similar situation and forced a mistake. Only this time it was Plotnikov’s pass to Kamenev. Vladislav scored his 15th point of the playoffs. Just 76 seconds later, the visitors took the lead for the first time. And this time their luck smiled on them. Dietz’s shot wasn’t the strongest, but the ricochet off Henkel’s stick proved ineffective. Svetlakov also put up a timely fight in the backfield.

Towards the end of the period, Kazan had to go forward and open up, but failed to create any real scoring chances. Radulov didn’t have enough to finish off his partner’s long-range shot.

Ak Bars had a whole period remaining, but CSKA played it back perfectly. Though the Army team was forced to hand the initiative to their opponent, they kept their mid-range opponent comfortable and didn’t allow their shots to go deep. With evenly balanced teams, the Red and Blue played a 1-3-1 formation. Kazan struggled to get the puck on the court with the support of the fans, but they had little success. The only thing worth remembering was Galiev’s dangerous pass, whose shot and shot were saved by Reideborn.

Moreover, with ten minutes left, the team was brought down by Adamchuk, who hit his opponent in the face with his stick in his own half. Though the visitors, just as in the first period, were not too successful on the power play, they stole time which Bilyaletdinov’s team had less and less of. However, five minutes before the final buzzer, Plotnikov provided a chance to escape with an unnecessary step. They should have converted that moment, but they also had little to show for it in the uneven lineup. The Army team outplayed their opponent physically at the end of the game and effectively sealed off all the empty zones.

And when the coaching staff removed Bilyalov, the visitors nearly sealed the game, but Okulov’s shot against the empty net was saved by the opponent. CSKA fans were also worried with 30 seconds to go when Dietz was suspended for playing with a stick too high. But Ak Bars failed to use even a double majority and suffered a legitimate loss.

Thus, the Red and Blue, having allowed their opponent to level the score in the final series, like last year, won in the seventh game. They also won the Gagarin Cup for the third time in the past five years, confirming their status as the hegemon.

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