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“Metallurg” is a champion! “Magnitka” defeated the Cup favorites by one wicket

“Metallurg” is a champion! Now it's official. Even after winning the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season, the Magnitogorsk club was not among the main favorites for the 2024 Gagarin Cup. And when the “steelworkers’” opponent in the final, Yaroslavl “Lokomotiv”, crushed CSKA Moscow in the first round, it was the “railroad workers” who were recognized by the overwhelming majority of experts and journalists as the main contenders for gold medals. However, the final situation unfolded contrary to all expectations.
Firstly, the main sensation was the defeat of Loko in the final and, accordingly, the victory of Magnitogorsk. Secondly, Metallurg’s path to victory was unexpected. Four out of four matches – this is exactly the schedule that Andrei Razin’s team met in the final series. This situation happened only for the second time in the history of the KHL: in 2019, with a similar score, the final was won by… Igor Nikitin, who, as the coach of CSKA, defeated Avangard and brought the army team the first Gagarin Cup in the history of the club. Now Igor Valerievich entered the history of the league as the first coach who won and lost the final of the Gagarin Cup with the same (albeit mirror for him) score.

The whole final turned out to be as strange as possible for both teams. The players and coaches of Metallurg, even taking into account the serious personnel losses, seemed to have sold their souls to the devil, otherwise their luck (and, accordingly, the wild failure of Lokomotiv) in a number of seemingly key moments cannot be explained. In the first match, Magnitogorsk steamrolled through Lokomotiv; in the second game, they incredibly managed to avoid a comeback by the railroad workers, whose goal in the last seconds of the match was canceled due to an absurd incident.

In the third game, Igor Nikitin’s team showed powerful hockey in front of their stands with high pressure and an abundance of scoring chances, but the puck repeatedly refused to fly into Ilya Nabokov’s net. The Yaroslavl team literally pushed in their only goal already at the moment when the Metallurg goalkeeper, even without a stick, made several saves in a row. In the end, Loko lost anyway, again due to an accident in overtime, when the puck, after bouncing off the boards and ricocheting off Daniil Isaev, treacherously crossed the goal line. And it cannot be said that the “railroad workers” were very lucky throughout the season right up to the final – all their victories and successes were achieved fairly and deservedly. But in the decisive series, inexplicable things happened.
They also took place in the last, fourth game of the series. “Lokomotiv” – just like the day before yesterday – had the advantage most of the time, created moment after moment near Ilya Nabokov’s goal, but each time could not finish what they started with a goal. Either Nabokov got in the way of the puck, or the execution failed even in front of what seemed like an empty goal. Ironically, only Yaroslav Likhachev managed to achieve what he wanted.
“Do you seriously believe that Likhachev will decide the outcome of the series? We believe in the guys who decided the series with CSKA, Avangard, Traktor. Why should we turn away from them now and bet on zero,” Nikitin said about Likhachev after the second match of the series.
And it is noteworthy that it was Yaroslav who gave Lokomotiv hope for victory.

However, the “railroad workers” were let down by their own extravagance. Metallurg frankly suffered in the first half of the second period and did their best to prevent Lokomotiv from doubling their lead. Having endured the main wave of pressure, the Magnitogorsk residents prepared a retaliatory strike. The guests played the end of the second 20 minutes better and more powerfully, forcing Lokomotiv's defenders to get nervous and make unnecessary mistakes near their goal. For about five minutes the hosts simply could not leave their zone. Denis Zernov, far from being in the most obvious situation, took the chance and confirmed his title as the best sniper of the playoffs.

In the decisive period of the entire series, Metallurg’s power play was key. This component worked poorly for Magnitogorsk throughout the playoffs, but it was in the finals that it produced the necessary results. Alexander Petunin found Daniil Vovchenko with a cool pass, and he shot past Isaev with a shot from the right throw-in circle.

2:1 – then Metallurg did not miss their advantage and brought the matter to victory, becoming a three-time winner of the Gagarin Cup.< br>

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