In which the puck goes from the Metallurg Magnitogorsk goal-line to the back of the Ak Bars Kazan net in three seconds, courtesy of Mister Lee and Mister Moyzakin.
The KHL’s Conference Finals are now well underway, and producing some interesting storylines to follow! Read on, as we take a quick look at those, and get you caught up on playoff happenings in a number of other leagues as well.
We’re five games — total, including both series — into the KHL Conference Finals, and while the low seeds have yet to win a game, there has been plenty of drama. Here’s how things stand as of this evening (conference seedings in parentheses):
- West: (2) SKA St. Petersburg 3-0 (4) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
- East: (1) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2-0 (3) Ak Bars Kazan
Pity poor Lokomotiv, who have held a lead in all three games against SKA but now face the real prospect of being swept. Game 1 saw the Yaroslavl boys ahead with just ten seconds left, but Jarno Koskiranta tied it for SKA, and Patrik Hersley won it 5-4 for the St. Petersburg giants in OT (salt in the wound on that one, as Hersley played for Lokomotiv last season). Game 2 was more routine, as Lokomotiv took a first-period lead, but SKA came storming back in the middle portion of the game to end up 4-1 winners. Today’s Game 3 was full of incident; a line brawl in the second period saw six fighting majors handed out, and a third period bench minor and game misconduct were assessed to Lokomotiv coach Alexei Kudashov for throwing a water bottle onto the ice (the coach later protested that he had accidentally dropped it). The fury of the crowd in Yaroslavl was volcanic after that one, especially when Nikita Gusev scored for SKA on the subsequent powerplay to level the game at one apiece. The St. Petersburg team then won it 2-1 early in overtime, thanks to Alexander Barabanov’s goal, and can end the series with another win on Wednesday.
It was not all good news for SKA, however: Pavel Datsyuk is apparently out for the remainder of the playoffs, although he hopes to return for the World Championship in May (in Datsyuk’s absence, Ilya Kovalchuk takes over the SKA captaincy, 13 months after it was stripped from him under somewhat mysterious circumstances during the 2015-16 playoffs). And goalie Mikko Koskinen, who has been enjoying an excellent playoff run, left today’s game in the first period with an injury. Those departures probably arrive too late to save Lokomotiv, however — besides which, Koskinen’s backup Igor Shestyorkin is a very fine young goalie in his own right (he made 32 saves on 32 shots after replacing his colleague today).
Things have been a bit more sedate in the East Final; Ak Bars have succeeded in blunting Metallurg’s ferocious attack somewhat, but not completely, and the Kazan team has lacked the necessary firepower to take advantage of their tenacious defence. Chris Lee’s spectacular stretch pass to the always-lurking Sergei Mozyakin (see video above), early in the second overtime of Game 1, left the Ak Bars players wondering what had just happened and settled that game at 2-1 for Metallurg. Game 2 featured a 30-save shutout from Metallurg’s Vasily Koshechkin en route to a 2-0 victory. Still some road to travel in this series, and we will see if the return to Kazan for Games 3 and 4 can spark Ak Bars.
Of note: Danis Zaripov continues his goal-scoring rampage for Metallurg. He has found the net in both games against Ak Bars, giving him 13 markers in 11 playoff games so far.
Off to the VHL (Russia’s second-tier professional men’s league), where the second round of the playoffs is now over, and in it the underdogs well and truly had their day. Tenth-seeded Rubin Tyumen eliminated second-ranked SKA-Neva St. Petersburg in a dramatic series; Rubin’s Alexei Lozhkin tied the deciding Game 7 with only two and a half minutes left, before Denis Yachmenyov won it, and the series, for them in overtime. Elsewhere, number eight Zauralye Kurgan overcame the third seed, Saryarka Karaganda, in six games, while fourth-seeded Sputnik Nizhny Tagil were unceremoniously sent to their summer holidays by sixth-ranked Dynamo Balashikha, in five games. And although regular season champions Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk did manage to advance to the semi-finals, they needed all seven games against 12th-ranked Dynamo St. Petersburg to get the job done.
And so the semi-final match-ups look like this:
- (1) Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk vs. (10) Rubin Tyumen
- (6) Dynamo Balashikha vs. (8) Zauralye Kurgan
Looking at the seedings, one might reasonably conclude that the path to the Bratina Cup lies open for Torpedo, but I wouldn’t bet too much money on it after that second round!
A couple of names to keep in mind here: the top two remaining scorers in the VHL playoffs both play for Dynamo Balashikha (they are Vladislav Yefremov and Dmitry Markovich, both at 11 gp, 6-7-13). In the semi-finals they will be up against the best goalie still standing: Zauralye’s Ilyas Gafiullin (9 gp, .958 sv%). So that will definitely be a match-up to keep an eye on.
Speaking of which, the VHL very often streams its games live on YouTube, and although I have not seen any word yet on whether the Dynamo-Zauralye games will be shown, the Torpedo-Rubin meetings certainly will be. I encourage you to check it out — it is very decent hockey.
In the MHL, Russia’s top junior league, the second playoff round is underway, and in fact one team (in bold below) has already advanced to the final four. Here’s how things stand currently (series are best-of-five)
- (1) SKA St. Petersburg 1-2 (6) Almaz Cherepovets
- (2) Krasnaya Armiya Moscow 3-0 (4) Russkie Vityazi Chekhov
- (1) Reaktor Nizhnekamsk 1-1 (7) Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk
- (3) Irbis Kazan 2-0 (4) Kuznetskie Medvedi Novokuznetsk
Round 1 saw a couple of significant upsets, as you can see. Seventh-ranked Sibirskie Snaipery overcame the East’s second seed, Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk; goalie Konstantin Sharapov stopped 62 of 64 shots over the last two games, as the Novosibirsk side rallied from a 2-1 series deficit to win in five. And in the West, number six Almaz Cherepovets eliminated the defending Kharlamov Cup champions, third-seeded Loko Yaroslavl, in four games. Of particular note for the Cherepovets team, junior side of the KHL’s Severstal, has been the play of Vadim Kudako. He is tied for overall post-season lead in goals with five in five games (he missed two games in the first round), which is all the more impressive considering that he is a defenceman.
We will close with a couple of other playoff notes from leagues that we don’t mention much, or enough, around here:
- The Asia League‘s lone Russian representative, HK Sakhalin, finished second in the regular season (out of nine teams), and so earned a bye to the semifinals; they currently lead Japan’s Nikko IceBucks two games to one in that best-of-five series. Should Sakhalin advance, they will likely face South Korean powerhouse, and defending champions, Anyang Halla in a re-match of last season’s final.
- Russia’s third-tier men’s pro league, the Pervenstvo VHL, is at the semi-final stage. HK Rostov currently have defending champions HK Tambov on the ropes, leading their best-of-five series two games to none. And Slavutich Smolensk have an identical lead over Mordoviya Saransk in the other semi-final.
- Finally, we turn to the second-tier Russian men’s junior league, the NMHL. That league too is down to four teams, although the semi-final series do not begin until this weekend. In the West, Dizelist Penza will face Loko-Yunior Yaroslavl, while in the East it will be Gornyak Uchaly versus Yunior Kurgan.
Thank you for reading, and enjoy some nice MHL goals!