Last time out, we took a look at the state of the playoff race in the KHL’s East Conference. To update that quickly: Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk have now clinched a playoff spot, while Barys Astana have been mathematically eliminated. And today we turn our attention to the West Conference, where a dramatic three-team battle is shaping up for the final games of the 2017-18 KHL regular season. Read on!
Most of the West Conference playoff field is now set, with six teams having punched their tickets already. They are (in descending standings order): SKA St. Petersburg, CSKA Moscow, Jokerit Helsinki, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, and HK Sochi. The first five of those, and the order in which they appear, should raise no eyebrows at all, nor should the fact that SKA have now secured the regular season KHL title. But HK Sochi, who clinched their post-season spot a couple of days ago, deserve a mention for becoming the first KHL team that missed out on the playoffs last season to have made it in this time around (they have since been joined in that category by Neftekhimik). And given the financial difficulties that have long swirled around HK Sochi, a third post-season berth in their four seasons of existence is an impressive feat.
The real drama lies in the seventh to ninth spots in the Conference, and not only because we have three team separated by a single point. The two playoff spots (seventh & eighth, that is) currently belong to Moscow sides — and ferocious rivals for 70 years — Spartak (4 games remaining, 78 points) and Dynamo (2 GR, 78 pts). Spartak have not seen the post-season since 2010-11, while Dynamo have never missed out at all in the KHL era. In fact, should Dynamo miss the playoffs this season, they will become the first team with both a Gagarin Cup championship (they have two) and a missed KHL post-season on their resume. These two teams met on Thursday, with Dynamo badly needing a win; they didn’t manage it though, falling behind 5-2 in the third period before a frantic late rally could only get them as close as 5-4.
And Dynamo now have a real problem. Just a point behind them, and with a game in hand to boot, are Severstal Cherepovets (3 GR, 77 pts). And one of Dynamo’s two remaining games is on the road tomorrow against mighty SKA. Severstal, for their part, may be fighting for more than their first playoff appearance since 2012-13; the little northern team is widely rumoured to be one of the three clubs that the KHL will contract after this season. Making the playoffs may not save them, but it will certainly strengthen Severstal’s case for remaining.
In short, this is a very tight race, and much will be decided on Tuesday. I have already mentioned Dynamo visiting SKA, but one of the day’s other games features Severstal on the road… against Spartak.
Dinamo Minsk (4 GR, 67 pts) are technically still in with a chance, but their margin for error is very slim. If the Belarusan side drops two points over its last four games, or if two of Dynamo Moscow, Spartak, and Severstal hit the 80 point mark, then it’s all over. It would be a nigh-miraculous thing for Dinamo to sneak into the 2071-18 post-season. Finally, at the bottom of the West Conference table we have three teams whose 2017-18 playoff absence is assured. Vityaz qualified for the knockout rounds last season, for the first time ever in the KHL, and that was one of 2016-17’s major stories. But this season they are back on the outside looking in, as are Slovan Bratislava and Dinamo Riga.
So that’s the state of affairs in the West Conference. At the end of this week the KHL goes on its month-long Olympic hiatus, but we will update the playoff-race picture before the league resumes action. In the meantime, keep an eye on the results from the next few days! Thank you for reading!