Eight Teams Standing in the VHL
The junior MHL playoffs, which we looked at yesterday, are just getting underway, but in the VHL (Russia’s second-tier men’s pro league), the first round of the quest for the Petrov Cup wrapped up on Friday. And it featured some very interesting performances, including a tremendous upset achieved under the most dramatic circumstances! So read on, for looks back at the first round and ahead to the second.
The big story of the first round, clearly, was 13th-seeded Metallurg Novokuznetsk’s upset of fourth-ranked Saryarka Karaganda. And no wonder: not only was it a huge “standings upset,” but it was almost ridiculously dramatic. Metallurg, the former KHL team that dropped down to the VHL this season, won the opener, then lost the next three and were staring elimination in the face. However, in Game 5, two early goals from Yevgeny Grigorenko sent the Novokuznetsk team on their way, and 43 saves by Andrei Litvinov secured a 5-3 road victory. Litvinov went right back to work at home in Game 6, and made another 43 stops in a 4-2 Metallurg win. Suddenly, the series was tied.
Game 7 in Karaganda was a nail-biter as well. Daniil Yerdakov gave Saryarka the lead early in the second, and as the home side peppered Litvinov with shots, it looked like the favourites would win through after all. But the Metallurg goalie, who would make 56 saves on the night, refused to allow Saryarka to increase their lead, and with just six minutes left in the third Konstantin Parkhomenko found an equalizer. Off we went to the first overtime, and some time later to a second. Finally, in the 92nd minute of the game, it was Grigorenko who finished off the comeback he had begun in Game 5. His slapshot from distance seemed to fool Saryarka goalie Denis Kostin, and Metallurg were through to the second round. I really cannot say enough about Litvinov in the last three games of this series; he faced 148 shots over Games 5,6, and 7, and gave up only six goals.
The dramatic end to the Saryarka-Metallurg series (video should be cued to 4:10:00).
Saryarka are one of two Kazakhstan-based teams in the VHL, and weirdly, the other Kazakh side, Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk, was also the victim of a “standings upset” in Round 1. It was of a milder sort; Torpedo were ranked seventh, and up against tenth-seeded Toros Neftekamsk. That one went only five games, and once again a goalie was key. Though Toros just nine goals in the five games, their netminder Pavel Khomchenko stopped 166 of 171 shots in the series for a pleasant .971 sv%, and was beaten only five times. On to the second round go Toros.
Those were the only two upsets of the first round, as the other six series saw the favourites advance with varying degrees of ease:
- (1) Dynamo St. Petersburg defeated (16) Molot-Prikamye Perm in five games.
- (2) SKA-Neva St. Petersburg swept (15) Khimik Voskresensk
- (3) Neftyanik Almetyevsk swept (14) Cheng Tou Jilin City
- (5) Zauralye Kurgan swept (12) Zvezda Chekhov
- (6) Yermak Angarsk beat (11) Yuzhny Ural Orsk in six games.
- (8) Sokol Krasnoyarsk beat (9) HK Sarov in five games.
The VHL does not do Conferences, so the matchups for the playoffs are determined simply by having the highest remaining seed play the lowest, the second-highest face the second-lowest, and so on. And so here are the pairings for the second round (original seedings in brackets):
- (1) Dynamo St. Petersburg vs. (13) Metallurg Novokuznetsk
- (2) SKA-Neva St. Petersburg vs. (10) Toros Neftekamsk
- (3) Neftyanik Almetyevsk vs. (8) Sokol Krasnoyarsk
- (5) Zauralye Kurgan vs. (6) Yermak Angarsk.
Metallurg’s heroic netminder Litvinov will have his work cut out for him against regular-season champions Dynamo. Not only are they the top seed, but they have also gotten in these young playoffs from Alexander Shevchenko (5 gp, 4-4-8) and Andrei Biryukov (5 gp, 3-4-7) — both top five in playoff points at this admittedly early stage despite a relatively short first-round series. Neftyanik, too, have a guy flying up front; Danil Voyevodin scored 4-3-7 in their first-round four-game sweep.
And what of our old friend Alexander Syomin (or Semin) at Sokol Krasnoyarsk? The former NHL star had a pretty good first round for his hometown team, tying for the league in 2017-18 playoff goals with four and posting five points in six games.
So roll on the second round! Games begin on Monday, and as a reminder you can watch them live at the VHL website or at the league’s YouTube channel. We will update again when the second round is over, but in the meantime thank you for reading!