Last Call for Playoff Spots
With the Olympics done, the KHL goes back to work on Tuesday; the regular season has just about wrapped up, with no team having more than two games remaining. There is a big slate of games on tap for tomorrow, and another one on Thursday, and then off to the playoffs we go. However, there are also still six post-season berths up for grabs between the league two conferences, with eight teams involved in the struggle. Read on, therefore, as we take a look at the possible scenarios — it is going to be a wild week, particularly in the East Conference!
A few little explanatory notes on KHL league format are in order before we start. The league awards points based on the 3-2-1-0 system (three points for a win in regulation time, two for an overtime or shootout victory, one for an overtime or shootout loss, and nothing for a defeat in regulation. The top eight in each conference make the playoffs. Each conference is also divided into two divisions, and the division winners are seeded first and second in the conference regardless of their total points. Keep that last bit in mind, because it will become important shortly!
And off we go! For the teams still fighting for playoffs spots, I have listed their current points and their remaining opponents in brackets. You can see the full standings here, if you would like to check my math (I encourage this).
- 1. SKA St. Petersburg
- 2. CSKA Moscow
- 3. Jokerit Helsinki
- 4. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
- 5. Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
- 6. HK Sochi
7. Spartak Moscow (82 points, at home versus Lokomotiv and Dynamo Moscow): Spartak are in good shape for a first playoff berth since 2010-11, as they actually have a couple of roads to the post-season. They’re in if they beat Lokomotiv in regulation, OR if they take even a single point off Dynamo Moscow. That final game of the season, on March 1st, should be monster in any case: two age-old rivals, who now share an arena, in a game that will almost certainly determine the playoff destiny of at least one of the teams involved!
8. Dynamo Moscow (80 points, away versus Spartak): Dynamo currently occupy the final playoff spot, but do not control their own fate, for the simple reason that they have only one game left while their playoff rivals each have two. It would be a very good idea for the blue-and-whites to beat Spartak in regulation, but even if they do that they will need some help from results elsewhere.
9. Severstal Cherepovets (79 points, away versus CSKA and SKA): Well, Severstal can make the playoffs simply by getting five points from their last two games… but oh my goodness that schedule! On the road to far-and-away the KHL’s two strongest teams is going to be a very tough hill to climb. On the bright side, however: neither SKA nor CSKA have anything at all left to play for in the regular season, and they have a combined 23 guys who just won gold medals at the Olympics, so who knows where their heads are right now. In fact, SKA just today called up eight players from their farm team and junior side, so they may be looking to rest their top guns until the playoffs begin. And Severstal know that their KHL future may ride on their making the post-season, so their motivation will not be lacking.
Eliminated from Playoffs:
- 10. Dinamo Minsk
- 11. Vityaz Moscow Oblast
- 12. Slovan Bratislava
- 13. Dinamo Riga
Apart from the playoff battles, the West is pretty much set (Lokomotiv could catch Jokerit for third, while Sochi could overtake Torpedo for fifth, but that’s it). However, the playoff fight should be a good one, with some history in it as well. I have already mentioned that Spartak have not seen the post-season in some time, and Severstal have not been there since 2012-13, when they actually made the second round with Vadim Shipachyov and Vasily Koshechkin on the books. As for Dynamo, should they miss out, they will become the first team to have both won the Gagarin Cup and missed the playoffs in the KHL era.
And then we turn to the East Conference, where… it’s complicated. Hoo boy, is it complicated!
- 1. Ak Bars Kazan
- 3. Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
- 4. Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg
- 5. Traktor Chelyabinsk
2. Salavat Yulaev Ufa (87 points, home versus HK Sochi and Ak Bars Kazan): That “2” is not a typo; Salavat Yulaev currently hold the East’s second seed, by virtue of leading the Chernyshyov Division, despite not having clinched a playoff spot. But they’re close, as three points from their last two games will get them to the post-season whatever happens elsewhere, and five will clinch them the division. That season-ender should be a good one; not only is it a ferocious rivalry game (the Green Derby), but Ak Bars’ top spot in the Conference is not yet assured, and they may come in needing points themselves.
6. Metallurg Magnitogorsk (89 points, home versus Ugra and Neftekhimik): Huh. Who would have thought that Metallurg, of all teams, would still not have a playoff spot wrapped up with only two games left? Well, they should get in with some ease, as they need just two points from their final two games. Getting those points against lowly Ugra would be a good idea, however, because Neftekhimik have been a real handful this season, and could enter that last game with a shot at first place in the Conference.
7. Sibir Novosibirsk (85 points, away versus Avangard and home versus Traktor): It’s a surprise of the nice kind to see Sibir still here with a fighting chance; not only did they miss the playoffs last season, but they also said good-bye to a host of their best skaters this past summer. But here they are regardless, and if they win in regulation tomorrow in Omsk, they’re in the postseason (beating Avangard in OT or the shootout plus getting a point against Traktor will work just as well). And if Sibir can get even a single point against the Omsk side, then a regulation victory versus Traktor gets them in, so there are a number of possibilities here.
8. Avangard Omsk (84 points, home versus Sibir, away versus Barys): Avangard’s 14-game splits in 2017-18, by points percentage, have gone .619, .571, .452, .417, and so here we are with a team that looked like East Conference title contenders last fall now battling just to make the playoffs. They will get in if they win both their remaining games in regulation, but if they don’t — and particularly if they drop points against Sibir tomorrow — then things get very dicey, and they will need help from results in other games.
9. Amur Khabarovsk (84 points, home versus Admiral, away versus Admiral): Amur may be bringing up the rear among the teams fighting for the last playoff spots (it is almost though not quite absolutely certain that Avangard will have the tie-breaker advantage should the two finish level on points), but the Far-Easterners still have cause for optimism. Because Avangard and Sibir play each other, assuring that at least one of those two will lose points, Amur can clinch a playoff spot simply by winning twice in regulation. And their opponent for both their remaining games is Admiral, who have been eliminated from playoff contention and sold off most of their good players at the deadline. Of course, Admiral will not wish to simply roll over for their geographic rivals, so Amur must be carefull, but a first post-season berth since 2011-12 is well within the grasp for the Khabarovsk team. And even if Amur drop a point or two to Admiral, they can sneak in if results elsewhere go their way.
Eliminated from Playoffs:
- 10. Barys Astana
- 11. Admiral Vladivostok
- 12. Kunlun Red Star Beijing
- 13. Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk
- 14. Lada Tolyatti
I have here, for the sake of brevity and sanity, only discussed the possibilities of teams making the playoffs in the East, but this is an amazingly tangled situation in the standings. Four of the teams still fighting for a playoff spot — Salavat Yulaev, Sibir, Avangard, and Amur — could win the Chernyshyov Division and thus end up as the East’s second seed (Metallurg are in the Kharlamov Division, and thus can only rise as high as third in the Conference). Meanwhile, Ak Bars, Neftekhimik, and Avtomobilist are all still in contention for the overall top spot in the East. Only Traktor Chelyabinsk can neither miss the playoffs nor win the Conference, and even they could finish up anywhere from third to seventh. It should make for a wildly entertaining week of hockey, and we’ll update the situation on Wednesday!
Thank you for reading!