Ak Bars of Kazan has become leader of the KHL’s “EAST” Conference this week-end. The achievement, however, does not mean the team never loses. Ak Bars simply do not do anything but play stellar hockey. The events of the last week are a good illustration of Kazan’s team way to the top of “EAST” Conference.
Both last week’s games of Ak Bars took place in its home city of Kazan. The first one was against Jokerit from Helsinki, Finland. The home team had all imaginable advantages on their side: their own arena and numerous fans, not a single home game lost during regular time in more than a month, and a victory against Jokerit in Finland just ten days previously. However, once on ice, Ak Bars played strong but not strong enough for the rematch-thirsty Jokerit.
The Finnish team has managed to win the first period 2:0. Niklas Hagman scored the first goal on the rebound and then Steve Moses managed to get one-on-one with Anders Nilsson and outplayed him.
In the second period Ak Bars sped up their game but no tangible result was achieved. And only in the third period Ilya Nikulin scored for the local team after a passing combination by Justin Azevedo and Oscar Moller. This goal was the last one in the game. Although Zinatula Bilyaletdinov took a time out and his team replaced Nilsson, Jokerit managed to keep all the efforts of Kazan’s team in check.
Obviously, this was a poor result for Ak Bars and an excellent one for Jokerit playing far away from home. In just a few days Ak Bars had to play against St. Petersburg’s SKA – the second-best team in “WEST” conference. On that evening the crowd, the media, the coaching headquarters and the team itself could only come home from the TATNEFT arena in peace with themselves, if Ak Bars won against their rivals from Russia’s second capital city.
The odds stood for SKA – a real KHL powerhouse filled with stars and money multiplied by the Russian army spirit (the team is wearing red stars on their jerseys, which signify the Soviet and afterwards Russian army). But Ak Bars disregarded the odds and played one of its best games in the current regular season, as the Head Coach Zinatula Bilyaletdniov admitted in the press-conference after the game. Each period saw a goal by Ak Bars (Nikulin, Nilsson and Azevedo each scored a goal), whereas SKA scored their first and last goal in the game only in the second half of the third period (Anton Burdasov).
During the press-conference after the game Vyacheslav “Slava” Bykov congratulated Ak Bars for their well-deserved victory and thanked them for giving SKA, one of the best teams in the KHL, a good lesson and lots of food for thought.