Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 KHL Gagarin Cup Playoff Update

The second round of the Kontinental Hockey League Gagarin Cup playoffs concluded Saturday and the Conference Finals are now set.

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In the Eastern Conference, #1 seed Metallurg Magnitogorsk, coached by Canadian Mike Keenan, managed to sweep #6 Sibir Novosibirsk, but the series was much closer than a sweep would indicate, as Game 1 required overtime, Game 2 was an identical 3-2 score, Game 3 also went to overtime with a final score of 2-1 before Metallurg won yet another 3-2 game as every contest was decided by a single goal, making for a genuinely close fought series and hardly sounding like a sweep with the total goals being just 11-7 for Magnitogorsk.


Meanwhile, the other Eastern series resulted in an upset. as #4 Salavat Yulaev Ufa defeated #2 Barys Astana from Kazakhstan 4 games to 2. Ufa took Game 1 3-2 in overtime, staying fresh after their full 7 game opening round, while Astana waited 9 days following their first round sweep.

Barys rebounded with a 5-2 win in Game 2 but were then put on the brink when Salavat Yulaev won the next two 5-2 and 3-2 in overtime at home. Barys stayed alive with a 2-1 win at home, but Ufa closed out the series with a 3-2 win back at home to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against Metallurg in a series that will begin on Thursday with the winner advancing to the Gagarin Cup Finals.

Here are the highlights of the final game between Salavat and Barys.


Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, #3 Lev Prague out of the Czech Republic faced #4 Donbass Donetsk of Ukraine. Lev won Game 1 at home 5-2 only to have Donbass take Game 2 4-3 in overtime after trailing entering the third period.

Lev returned the favor, taking Game 3 in overtime 3-2 but Donbass evened the series at 2-2 with a 3-1 win in Game 4, but Prague won the next two games by scores of 3-1 and 1-0 as Finnish goaltender Atte Engren made the lone goal by defenseman Ondrej Nemec stand up as the winner to close out the series and advance Lev to the Western Conference Finals.

Despite all that, the story in the KHL continues to be Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, as the #8 and lowest seed continues to surprise, having already eliminated the defending champions and #1 seed Dynamo Moscow in the opening round. Their reward for that victory was a series against the #2 seed SKA Saint Petersburg, led by star Ilya Kovalchuk.

A well rested Saint Petersburg club took Game 1 by a score of 1-0 but Lokomotiv turned the tables on the road in Game 2, coming back from a 4-2 deficit after two periods to take a 5-4 overtime win on a goal by Vladislav Kartayev.

Back on home ice Yaroslavl took a 4-1 decision only to have SKA hammer them in Game 4 6-1 to even the series at 2-2. Lokomotiv, coached by another Canadian, this one with previous KHL experience, Dave King, continued their season with a 3-2 win on the road and closed out the series back home with a 2-0 shutout in Game 6 with goals by Yury Petrov and 8 year NHL veteran Vitaly Vishnevsky and 26 saves by Canadian and former NHL goaltender Curtis Sanford.

Here are the highlights from the final game between Lokotmotiv and SKA, followed by the deciding game for Lev and Donbass, including an insane save by the Finn Engren for Lev which is not to be missed!


Now having knocked off #1 Dynamo Moscow and #2 SKA Saint Petersburg, Lokomotiv now draws #3 Lev Prague in the Western Conference Finals, which are set to begin in on Wednesday in Prague where Lokomotiv may not be the favorite of the bookmakers based on the two team's final placings in the standings, but they will certainly be the emotional favorites of the world of hockey as this is only their second season for the resurrected club following the air disaster that killed the entire 2011-12 roster on their way to their opening game of the season.

While Lokomotiv and Lev finished the season with 23 wins each, #3 Lev racked up 15 more points from overtimes and shootouts, as Lev lost just 13 games versus #8 Lokomotiv's 21 losses. Notably, Prauge won a KHL leading 9 shootouts with only two other of the 28 teams even managing 7. Fortunately for Lokomotiv, shootouts are not a part of the postseason and Lev's advantage is therefore removed.

#1 Metallurg must be favored in the East, as they stand alone as the only 100 point team remaining with 108 from 30 wins, taking on #4 Ufa, who finished with 94 points from 25 wins.

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