The KHL’s 2016-17 regular season comes to an end tomorrow, as 24 teams take to the ice in the last round of games. Much remains to be determined, including: the league’s regular-season champion, two playoff spots, and the composition of seven out of eight first-round playoff series. Read on, for a little discussion of what tomorrow might bring with regards to at least the first two of those undecided elements!
All is decided, at least in terms of playoff spots, in the West Conference. Jokerit Helsinki lost their last game of the season, 5-4 to Ak Bars Kazan, but HK Sochi’s 6-2 loss to SKA in St. Petersburg meant that the Finnish side qualifies regardless. Your eight West Conference playoff sides are therefore: CSKA Moscow, SKA St. Petersburg, Lokomotiv Yaroslav, Dynamo Moscow, Dinamo Minsk, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, Vityaz Moscow Oblast, and Jokerit Helsinki. Six of those teams can still move up or down a place (Vityaz are locked in seventh and Jokerit in eighth), so none of the West’s first-round playoff match-ups are yet determined; all that will be settled tomorrow.
The battle for top spot in the West Conference is also the battle to first place overall in the league, and thus for the KHL’s Continental Cup trophy as regular season champions. CSKA and SKA are both on 134 points, with the former holding the tie-breaker thanks to 40 regulation-time wins versus 38. That means that CSKA need only get as many points tomorrow against Spartak as SKA do against Torpedo to clinch top spot. We should note, however, that winning the Continental Cup is hardly a guarantee of playoff success. Quite the contrary in fact — no regular season champion has ever won the Gagarin Cup that same season, and only one (CSKA in 2015-16) has even made the finals. Two Continental Cup winners, meanwhile, have exited the playoffs at the first stage. So, a mixed blessing if that.
In the East Conference, meanwhile, there are still two playoff spots left to be grabbed, down from three at this time on Wednesday. Salavat Yulaev Ufa clinched their spot without having to get out of bed on Thursday, thanks to Sibir Novosibirsk’s overtime loss to Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk, while Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg and Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk saw their already-faint hopes extinguished.
So three teams remain to contest the two spots: Kunlun Red Star Beijing, Admiral Vladivostok, and Sibir. Both Kunlun Red Star and Admiral are on 83 points, and both hold the tie-breaking advantage of Sibir two points behind. Sibir must win tomorrow, in regulation, on the road against Avtomobilist, while also hoping that either Kunlun Red Star or Admiral loses in regulation. Kunlun Red Star and Admiral need only a single point to make the playoffs; the Beijing side will face Dynamo in Moscow, while Admiral are in Podolsk to take on Vityaz. Kunlun Red Star hold the tie-breaker advantage over Admiral, and so will finish on top should end up tied in points.
Metallurg Magnitogorsk, defending Gagarin Cup champions, have clinched first place in the East Conference, and will await the outcome of tomorrow’s games to see whom they face in Round 1. There is one first-round playoff match-up already set in stone in the East; fourth seed Traktor Chelyabinsk will be paired with fifth-place Barys Astana, with the former holding home-ice advantage. This should be an interesting series, as it features two teams that missed the playoffs entirely in 2015-16. After tomorrow, when the rest of the first-round series are known, it will be playoff preview time here at the blog (the first piece will likely be up on Sunday). So do check back, and in the meantime thank you for reading!