Having forged a 3-0 lead over Ak Bars in the Eastern Conference final series, and with Thursday evening’s Game 4 rapidly approaching, Metallurg Magnitogorsk head coach Ilya Vorobyov took some time on the eve of the crucial match to give an interview to KHL.ru and also the fans via Periscope, in which he spoke of his coaching dual with Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, of the exploits of Sergei Mozyakin and Danis Zaripov, and much more.
One key reason why the Kazan men are facing a daunting 0-3 deficit, and not a 1-2, is the form of 36-year-old Magnitka forward Danis Zaripov, whose two late goals in Game 3 snatched victory from the jaws of the White Leopards. Now Zinetula Bilyaletdinov's team has no room for error, and must try to emulate SKA Saint Petersburg’s 2015 miracle of overturning a 0-3 lead in the Gagarin Cup playoffs.
“We're still not in the final. We need four wins, not three.”
- Ilya Petrovich, how has your team been spending this rest day between matches?
Ilya Vorobyov: “We had voluntary training. That is, the guys who played in Tuesday’s game could train however they liked, but we had a compulsory training session for those who did not take part in the game. Otherwise, it was a routine day, preparing for the next match.”
- You lead the series 3-0. How confident do you feel?
Ilya Vorobyov: “At these times you need to ignore the series score and focus instead on how the games have turned out. We have won in overtime, and by one or two goals in regulation. Ak Bars is a fine, well-organized team which makes few mistakes and defends very well. They will not give up without a fight.”
- What can you say about Danis Zaripov’s double in Game 3?
Ilya Vorobyov: “Danis has been awesome. All the guys have worked hard and fought for victory, but it was Zaripov who came to the team’s rescue at just the right time.”
- To win four straight matches is a hard task for any team.
Ilya Vorobyov: “There’s no use making predictions here. I’ll say it again: our opponents are about the same level as we are, but we happen to be ahead in the series. Five minutes before the end of the third game we were losing, but managed to win in regulation time. Everything is possible.”
“I enjoy contests against any coach. As for Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, he and I have known each other for a very long time. I played under him at Dynamo Moscow in the early days of my hockey career.”
- Yesterday, your players did not say much to the press or fans. Even at 3-0 they seem very focused and do not look like players who are heading to the Gagarin Cup final.
Ilya Vorobyov: “Of course, because we're still not there. It's the playoffs, where anything can happen, so under no circumstances should we relax. We need four wins, not three, and we know only too well how hard Ak Bars will fight.”
- What will be the main, deciding factor in the fourth game in the series?
Ilya Vorobyov: “Mike Babcock said a good phrase a couple of years ago. He was asked about the Olympics, and he said that even a broken stick could be the difference between victory and defeat.
Take yesterday's game, for example, when Evgeny Timkin had a fall and couldn’t get back to his feet – that left us playing 3-on-5 and we allowed a goal. Against a team like Ak Bars, losing even one goal gives a big advantage to your opponent, so any detail, any little thing can turn the game one way or the other.”
- By the way, how is Evgeny Timkin?
Ilya Vorobyov: “He couldn’t finish yesterday's match, but we hope to have him in the roster for Game 4.”
- Your team picked up quite a few penalties in the first period of Game 3. We they struggling to cope with the opposition?
Ilya Vorobyov: “I cannot give a simple answer to that, because the penalties happened for various reasons. However, I don’t agree that we were struggling to cope. Hockey is that kind of game – penalties happen.”
“Bilyaletdinov and I have known each other for a very long time”
- Many fans and experts are already giving their opinions of a Gagarin Cup final between Metallurg Magnitogorsk and SKA...
Ilya Vorobyov: “Our coaching staff work on real life matches, not hypothetical ones. We are currently in a series with Ak Bars and we are fully focused on that.”
- Before this series, the coaches attracted almost as much discussion as the players. What can you say about Zinetula Bilyaletdinov?
Ilya Vorobyov: “I enjoy contests against any coach. As for Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, he and I have known each other for a very long time. I played under him at Dynamo Moscow in the early days of my hockey career.”
- Leaving the score aside, has anything about Ak Bars surprised you in this series?
Ilya Vorobyov: “To be honest, I don't think anyone has surprised anyone, them or us. Yes, some adjustments to game plans have been needed here and there, but in general, when you go into the playoffs everyone fully understands what awaits them, and it would be very hard to surprise anyone.”
- Metallurg has earned a reputation for being ruthless in powerplay, but this has not been the case recently. Is it fair to say that Ak Bars has found the antidote?
Ilya Vorobyov: “We probably did too well in our powerplays in the first two playoff series. To keep up that scoring rate against such an opponent is very difficult. I don't know if the Kazan guys have found the way to neutralize us, but I note that we are still creating chances in powerplay. Sometimes we have been unlucky, and at other times the goalie, Garipov, has been excellent.”
- Will your goaltender, Ilya Samsonov, be given his chance in this series?
Ilya Vorobyov: “That’s a tricky question. We will have a look at the situation and think about it.”
“I wouldn’t say Semin is off form. Yes, the goals have dried up a little, but we should note the huge amount of spadework done by that troika – they draw a lot of penalties and put the opposition defensemen under pressure.”
- Was Vasily Koshechkin to blame yesterday for the hosts’ second goal?
Ilya Vorobyov: “No, the puck ricocheted into the net off a skate. It was a frantic period of play with many ricochets.”
- Your leading players have given the impression that they could score at any moment...
Ilya Vorobyov: “We hope that will be the case. In the playoffs that is a priceless quality.”
- On our Periscope broadcast, some fans have asked the following question: would you like to coach CSKA?
Ilya Vorobyov: “I am under contract at Magnitogorsk Metallurg. It’s a silly question (smiles).”
- Have you had time to follow events in the Western Conference?
Ilya Vorobyov: “I’ve watched the games, of course, but it is too early to think about possible opponents. For now, I am primarily interested in Ak Bars.”
- Would you rather win the series 4-0 or have a long series against the Kazan men?
Ilya Vorobyov: “No one has guaranteed us a place in the final. Naturally, you want to win every series as quickly as possible, and no-one will play to lose, nor will anyone let you choose whether you finish the series at home or on the road. The playoffs are fiercely competitive, and that is why we must play to win in every game.”
“I’m not interested in individual players’ successes or failures”
- How did the team celebrate the new record set by Sergei Mozyakin?
Ilya Vorobyov: “We’re celebrating nothing. Right now, we are only concentrating on the team’s performances, and not on individual records.”
- Metallurg president Gennady Velichkin said the Kovar line is the best in the KHL. Is he right?
Ilya Vorobyov: “We won’t go fishing for compliments during the playoffs. I don’t want to jinx anyone (laughs).”
- What is your view on Alexander Semin’s loss of form?
Ilya Vorobyov: “I wouldn’t say he is off form. Yes, the goals have dried up a little, but we should note the huge amount of spadework done by that troika – they draw a lot of penalties, and they put the opposition defensemen under pressure and force them into making mistakes out in the corners or in front of goal.”
“Danis has been awesome. All the guys have worked hard and fought for victory, but was Zaripov who came to the team’s rescue at just the right time. In the playoffs that is a priceless quality”
- Have any other players disappointed you?
Ilya Vorobyov: “I’m not interested in individuals’ successes or failures. All that matters are the performances of the team, the results on the scoreboard, and that at the end of the game, our team has scored at least one more goal than the opposition.”
- How is Wojtek Wolski’s recovery going?
Ilya Vorobyov: “He returned to Magnitogorsk a few days before the start of the series with Ak Bars. He’s met the team and started light training, but he is still not ready for full training. All we can do is wish him a speedy recovery.”
- Which were tougher: last season’s playoffs or this year’s?
Ilya Vorobyov: “Hard to say. Let’s return to this question at the end of the season (smiles).”