The Banks of the Neva (Updated)
The 2017-18 Petrov Cup Final, in the VHL (Russia’s second-tier men’s professional league) will be an all-St. Petersburg affair! Local teams Dynamo and SKA-Neva, the top two seeds coming into the post-season, have duly made their way to the championship round. Read on, for a quick look back at the semifinal round, and ahead to the Final!
Dynamo St. Petersburg, the VHL regular-season champions, had little trouble with Zauralye Kurgan in their semifinal series. It was finished in four games, and although one of them went to overtime, Dynamo outscored their opponents 19-5 in the series. The big numbers were put up by forward Alexander Kulagin, who scored 7-3-10 in the four games, including a hat-trick in the opener. Kulagin, who spent much of this season with Dynamo’s KHL parent club Vityaz Moscow Oblast, missed the first round, but is still the VHL’s playoff goal-scoring leader this season with 11 in nine games. He is only 24, and on this showing we may very well see a lot more of him in the KHL with Vityaz next season. Dynamo also got a decent performance in the second round from current playoff points leader Alexander Shevchenko, who scored six points to run his post-season line to 14 gp, 9-11-20.
The other semifinal series, in which SKA-Neva St. Petersburg overcame Neftyanik Almetyevsk, was far closer, even if it ended in only five games. No match was decided by more than two goals, and even that margin was achieved only twice. One game (Game 4, Neftyanik’s sole victory) went to overtime, and the fifth and final one might as well have. In that one, played today, the two teams went scoreless through the game’s first 59 minutes and 53 seconds. It was young defenceman Vladislav Syomin, scorer of four points in five games for Russia at the most recent World Juniors, who popped up with just seven ticks left on the clock to score SKA-Neva’s winner and propel them to the Petrov Cup Final.
Syomin’s heroics aside, the big story of this series was the play of SKA-Neva goalie Nikita Bogdanov. He recorded three shutouts in the five games (he now has four in total in these playoffs), and overall he stopped 154 of 159 shots for a very nice .969 sv%.
So that all gives us something of a clue as to what we might see in the Final: Dynamo’s scoring weapons (Shevchenko and Kulagin are but two of several) up against Bogdanov’s impermeability. Dynamo did finish the regular season ten points ahead of SKA-Neva, but in a three-points-for-a-win system that is not the most massive of margins. All-in-all, these teams look pretty closely matched. One added note of intrigue: events in the VHL playoffs and elsewhere mean that the SKA St. Petersburg organization, of which SKA-Neva is the top farm-team, can hold out hope of winning all three of Russia’s top men’s leagues: the VHL, MHL, and KHL. We still await word on exactly when the VHL Final will commence (early to middle of next week, likely), but I will update this post when we know.
Update: The Petrov Cup Final will begin on April 17th, with the first four games to be played on the 17th, 18th, 21st, and 22nd.
A final note: this will be the first time that the Petrov Cup is awarded under that moniker (it is named in memory of former Soviet hockey great Vladimir Petrov, who passed away about a year ago). Previously, VHL teams played for the Bratina Cup. However, I believe that the actual trophy will remain the same; the change is only to the cup’s name.
Thank you for reading!