Alexei Tsvetkov wrote his name into the Kontinental League history books with a dramatic overtime winner to keep the Gagarin Cup in Moscow, following today’s 3-2 victory by Dynamo over Traktor Chelyabisnk. Moscow won the series in six games.
Dynamo and Traktor had played just under six minutes of the extra period – and both had killed a penalty – when Tsvetkov struck from close range to beat Michael Garnett after the goalie sprawled across the crease to beat away a Denis Kokarev shot.
The championship clinching goal was a hard pill for Traktor to swallow: the home team had been inches away from squaring the series at 3-3 when Evgeny Kuznetsov emerged from the penalty box to lead a one-on-one break, only to fire agonizingly wide of Alexander Yeryomenko’s goal. And the extent to which Dynamo had been pushed to the limits was confirmed by the goalkeeper’s MVP award for this season’s playoffs, not to mention the three times Traktor was denied by the posts.
Traktor had already pulled back from the brink of defeat in the third period. The Eastern Conference champion’s leading post-season point-scorer, Petri Kontiola, had to wait for his first goal in the final series – but his timing was perfect as he tied this game with 10 minutes to play, saving his team in regulation time and postponing Dynamo’s championship celebration. The Finn struck after a brilliant pass across two zones from Andrei Kostitsyn left the Dynamo defense in tatters; the forward found himself one-on-one with Yeryomenko and calmly lifted the puck over the goalie’s left pad to make it 2-2.
In the first period of a typically hard-fought encounter Traktor took the lead in the 15th minute. Maxim Yakutsenya got the goal, reacting first as Deron Quint’s shot was blocked and surprising Yeryomenko by getting a second attempt away even as he fell to the ice. The forward almost doubled that lead with the last play of the period, rattling the crossbar as Dynamo struggled to kill its second penalty of the game.
In the second period Yakutsenya and Quint hit the pipes within seconds of each other – and Dynamo went on to take advantage of the reprieve, scoring twice in a three-minute burst to move within touching distance of the trophy. Sergei Soin tied it at 1-1 with a classic piece of poaching in the slot. Marek Kvapil’s pass from the red line found his teammate, and the shot squeezed through Michael Garnett’s pads. Kvapil then wasted a golden opportunity, firing wide while all alone in front of goal, but seconds later Dmitry Pestunov put Dynamo ahead with his first postseason goal. Dominik Granak’s long-range shot looped up off Alexei Vasilchenko, deceiving Garnett and presenting Pestunov with a tap-in.
Kuznetsov missed a great chance to equalize before the second horn, but failed to beat Yeryomenko in a one-on-one, then the post denied Traktor yet again with Gennady Razin out of luck on this occasion. And in the third period, after Kontiola’s equalizer, either team might have won it: Kokarev sped away from Kostitsyn only to fire wide, then Vladimir Antipov was denied in the last seconds by Yeryomenko. Even in overtime it could have gone either way, with Traktor gaining a man advantage within the first minute and Jan Bulis forcing yet another smart save from Yeryomenko before Tsvetkov finally completed Dynamo’s second consecutive victory celebration.