KHL Playoffs, Round 2: Ruminations
The KHL playoffs roll along, with the last eight teams duking it out with the goal of halving their number. Below the jump, a few random-ish observations on how the second round has gone so far!
CSKA Moscow (1) vs. Jokerit Helsinki (4):
It was definitely “mission accomplished” today for Jokerit, who came in trailing 2-0 in the series and absolutely could not afford to go down by three games against the top club in the league. Two goals from Tommi Huhtala followed on the way to a tidy, if nerve-wracking, 3-2 victory for the Finns, and we have a series again.
Actually, there is not much to say about this matchup. Jokerit are regretting a blown two-goal lead late in Game 1, and they nearly repeated the trick in today’s tilt before hanging on at the end. And CSKA, who had won all six of their playoff games this season before today, should probably be worried about letting their attention wander off the task at hand — this is a good opponent they are facing. At the moment, though, 2-1 for the top seed, with the home team having won every game, is a reasonable state for this series to be in. Game 4 on Tuesday will tell us a great deal about what to expect from the rest of it.
SKA St. Petersburg (2) vs. Dynamo Moscow (3):
Dynamo Moscow must have felt pretty good about things after the first two matches of the series. They had earned a split in St. Petersburg, and were returning to the friendly confines of the Luzhniki Arena and their home fans (not to mention the above-pictured Mashka). And of course, as everybody knows, SKA are a mighty force during the regular season, and a big disappointment come playoff time. Things looked good for Dynamo and their redoubtable resident feline!
But oh, what a difference a weekend can make. In Game 3, SKA showed the sort of disciplined defense that used to be Dynamo’s own calling card, earning a 2-0 victory. For Game 4, the St. Petersburg team turned the offense back on, and the Muscovites simply had no answer. 6-1 was the final score, and to make a miserable couple of days for Dynamo worse, starting goalie Alexander Lazushin left the game with an injury. Now, that is not as big a problem for Dynamo Moscow as for some other teams — capable replacements are at hand in the persons of Alexander Yeryomenko and Alexander Sharychenkov — but it is still not good news. And now they have to go back to St. Petersburg…
As for SKA, hats off to coach Vyacheslav Bykov. After the post-season let-downs of previous campaigns, he has this year’s team looking good in pretty much every aspect of the game, and at exactly the right time too!
Ak Bars Kazan (1) vs. Avangard Omsk Oblast (4):
This series sits at 2-1 for Ak Bars, but it does not actually feel like it is that close. Avangard, beset by injuries and facing an opponent known for stout defense, have not found the net since overtime of Game 1, and have looked definitively second-best to the powerhouse Tatar team.
About those injuries. Already without two key forwards in Vladimir Sobotka and Denis Parshin, the men from Omsk lost another one when captain Sergei Kalinin suffered a truly terrifying head injury in Game 6 of the first round against Barys (Kalinin is fine, thankfully, but the video is still scary and upsetting – watch at your own risk). Fired-up by the incident, Avangard won Game 7, and snuck away with that overtime victory to start Round 2. However, raw emotion can only take a team so far, and it appears that that point has been reached and passed. Ak Bars really ought to take this series in five.
Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast (2) vs. Metallurg Magnitogorsk (3):
For sheer drama, it has been hard to beat this series. Despite their higher seed, Sibir came in as decided underdogs to the defending champions, and so there was some shock when the Novosibirsk boys won the first two games at home, held the lethal Sergei Mozyakin pointless in the process, and generally looked by far the stronger team. The series came into Magnitogorsk today with Metallurg in unaccustomed dire straits and badly needing something to go right for them.
And did things ever go right for them. Mozyakin slipped the Sibir leash, scoring twice and assisting on another, and Metallurg came away with a 5-2 win. But that was overshadowed by the moment of red-mist rage from Sibir goalie Alexander Salak (see video clip above). Salak, who has generally been fantastic in net the last little while, was ejected in the first period for punching Metallurg’s Maxim Yakutsenya with his blocker after a fairly inconsequential-looking collision. The Czech netminder will certainly be suspended, and the only question is the length of his league-mandated holiday. Metallurg General Manager Gennady Velichkin called for Salak to be kicked out for life, which seems both excessive and highly unlikely, but anything more than a couple of games without their top goalie will pose a real problem for Sibir.
There are still miles to go in the series, of course, and Sibir do have a two games to one lead. This one may have more twists and turns yet to come!