Lev Prague defied the odds to take this year’s Kontinental League Gagarin Cup final to a seventh game against Metallurg Magnitogorsk thanks to a late equalizer from Mikko Maenpaa and an overtime goal by Canadian defenseman Nathan Oystrick.
The home team knew it was do-or-die in front of its fans in Prague, but trailed three times on the night before recovering to defeat Metallurg 5-4 in overtime.
There was little more than two minutes left to play in regulation when Maenpaa tied up the score at 4-4 and forced OT. Magnitka ran into trouble on the boards and Sergei Mozyakin – whose goal and two points on the night took his team so close to lifting the Cup – gifted the puck to the Finnish defenseman. Maenpaa needed no second invitation, firing a wrist shot past Vasily Koshechkin to bring Lev’s hopes back to life.
Then, in the extra session, Patrik Zackrisson led a counter attack on Koshechkin’s net and had the goalie sprawling to scrape the puck out of his crease. As the play resumed, Oystrick – who had earlier hit the post as his team looked to force overtime – fired the puck along the goalline and saw it bounce in off the back of the goalie’s legs to give Lev a vital victory.
Lev’s win means that the Gagarin Cup final has gone to a decisive final game in four seasons out of six, while Magnitogorsk head coach Mike Keenan is set to add a KHL Game 7 to his two Stanley Cup final deciders.
For Metallurg, though, it was a cruel end to a game that seemed poised to bring the team glory. It was particularly hard to bear for Francis Pare, whose goal late in the second period seemed set to hand Metallurg the game and the series. Lev had barely killed a penalty when a quick counter saw Mozyakin rushing down the flank. Pare’s run went untracked in the center, and Mozyakin’s pass was perfectly placed for his teammate to snap off the 4-3 goal.
Earlier, hostilities were opened by the main men of the series – Mozyakin and Justin Azevedo. The Magnitogorsk man opened the scoring in the 10th minute, outpacing Maenpaa down the left flank before beating Petri Vehanen from close in. But when Mozyakin was later sin-binned, Azevedo maintained his record of scoring in every game of this series with a slap shot to convert Lev’s first power play of the game. A second penalty on Magnitka enabled Lev to go to the first intermission up 2-1; Ondrej Nemec set up to shoot from the blueline, but deceived Koshechkin with a pass for Martin Sevc who fired past the flat-footed goalie.
The second period began in similar vein, with the teams trading goals. Mikhail Yunkov tied it up in the 23rd minute, converting Oskar Osala’s pass from behind the goal before Chris Lee surprised Vehanen with a one timer from the edge of the circle that flew over the goalie’s shoulder and into the top corner.
Lev wasn’t finished though, even if its defense betrayed unfamiliar signs of frailty: a rare goal from Ryan O’Byrne, taking his time and picking his spot from the deep slot, tied the game at 3-3, but the high tempo of the game was beginning to take its toll on the home side. As Magnitka applied the pressure, Danis Zaripov saw a great chance denied by a combination of Vehanen’s pads and the outside of the post before Pare’s tally set up that nerve-jangling final period and Lev’s eventual escape.
The final act of a compelling series will take place in Magnitogorsk on Wednesday. Will Mike Keenan add a Gagarin Cup to his Stanley Cup success, or can Lev become the first team to take the KHL’s top prize out of Russia?