MOSCOW, April 17 (R-Sport) – Dynamo Moscow was crowned Gagarin Cup champions Wednesday, stunning Traktor Chelyabinsk with a 3-2 game six overtime win.
Alexei Tsvetkov flipped a puck past a diving Traktor goalie Michael Garnett less than six minutes into the overtime frame, sending a jubilant Dynamo squad into a frenzy at center ice as a silenced Chelyabinsk crowed look on.
Dynamo becomes the second back-to-back Gagarin winner in the league’s five-year history. They came back from two games down to defeat Avangard Omsk in seven games in 2011-2012.
Dynamo goalie Alexander Yeryomenko saved 30 shots, included 13 in the third period, and was named playoff MVP for the second year in a row. The 33-year-old led all goalies with a 1.74 goals against average, adding three shutouts and a 93.4 save percentage.
Traktor had tied the game 2-2 with ten minutes remaining in the third period on a brilliant Petri Kontiola breakaway goal, and it seemed for a short time that Traktor might pull off what Dynamo did last year against Avangard: recover from a 3-1 series deficit.
After dropping the first two games of the series, then game four at home, Traktor won a do-or-die game five in Moscow to send the teams back to Chelyabinsk. To some, Traktor’s gut-check win on Monday harkened back to their Eastern Conference finals series against Ak Bars Kazan, when they came back from two games down to earn a spot in the championship.
On Wednesday, Traktor started the scoring with six minutes remaining in the first period on an acrobatic backhander by Maxim Yakutsenya. After taking a long pass from Deron Quint, Yakutsenya tripped while streaking toward Dynamo goalie Alexander Yeryomenko but managed to chip the puck into the net while in midair. It was Traktor’s 23rd first-period in 25 playoff games.
Whatever momentum they had been building was snuffed out by two unanswered Dynamo goals in the second period. Sergei Soin and Dmitry Pestunov scored less than three minutes apart to give Dynamo a 2-1 lead heading into the third period.
Garnett saved 23 Dynamo shots but had to fend off a slew of Dynamo attackers who managed to penetrate the Traktor defense and get in close to the net.
Soin scored at 31:36, taking a clear pass from Ilya Gorokhov in front before pushing the puck through Garnett’s legs.
Shortly after, Pestunov scored when a wiry slap shot by Dominik Granak hit Traktor’s Alexei Vasilchenko in front of the net, floated over Garnett and landed at the Dynamo forward’s feet.
Kontiola’s goal, his tenth of the playoffs, came on left-right deke that fooled Yeryomenko.
Dynamo hoisted the Gagarin Cup after an unusual season for the KHL, considered by many the second-best hockey league in the world after the NHL. Many teams took on North American and European players, including several high-profile Russians, during the four-month NHL lockout, generating much-needed overseas publicity for the fledgling league. Dynamo, for one, played temporary host to NHL forwards Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and goalie Nicklas Backstrom.
The KHL grew its average attendance for the fifth year in a row.
“No one can dispute that this was the KHL’s best season,” league president Alexander Medvedev said Wednesday. “In the regular season and the playoffs there were such tremendous games.”