For the second year in a row, the top team in the 2015-16 KHL regular season was CSKA Moscow, who tallied 127 points in the 60 game KHL season. CSKA was paired with the #8 qualifier Slovan Bratislava from Slovakia and swept them in four games straight with Game 2 requiring overtime.
Jokerit Helsinki of Finland won the Bobrov Division with 108 points to claim the second seed and were matched up against Torpedo Nizhny Novogorod of Russia, who scored 100 points in the standings. While they won 8 games less than Jokerit, their 10 overtime wins and 11 overtime losses allowed them to pile up the points. Torpedo took Game 1 6-4, but Jokerit evened the series with a 4-3 win in Game 2. The Russian side took a hard fought Game 3, making a Artyom Alyayev goal just 8:57 into the game stand up for a 1-0 win and a 2-1 series lead. Torpedo followed that with a 3-2 overtime in in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, but Jokerit stayed alive with a 3-2 win in Game 5 before Torpedo closed them out with a 3-2 win in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.
The #3 seed Lokomotiv Yaroslavl narrowly finished second in the Tarasov Division with 125 points, just 2 back of CSKA, but far head of the rest of the KHL pack, as Jokerit and HC Sochi were next at 108 points. Lokomotiv drew the defending Gagarin Cup champions SKA Saint Petersburg, the #6 seed. SKA jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two periods in Game 1 and then held on to win 3-2. They then scored a goal in each period to claim Game 2 by a score of 3-0. Nikita Gusev's goal for SKA at the 3:38 mark of the second period was the lone goal of Game 3 as SKA took a decisive 3-0 lead in games. SKA then won Game 4 2-0 to complete not only the sweep, but the largest upset of the the first round, knocking off a team that finished 25 points ahead of them in the standings.
The final Western Conference series saw HC Sochi, the #4 seed based on their 108 points, against the 105 point Dynamo Moscow and their stingy defense, which allowed them to have a better goal differential compared to HC Sochi, +41 vs +26. Dynamo made quick work of Sochi, sweeping them in four by scores of 4-1, 3-2. 3-0 and 1-0 as Alexei Tereshchenko closed out the series with his goal at 13:09 of the second overtime to allow Dynamo to become the third of four lower seeds to advance.
In the Eastern Conference, all four series went to the favorites as Chernyshev Division winner and #1 seed Avangard Omsk (106 points) swept Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (86) 2-1, 4-2, 2-1 and 3-2 in overtime in a close fought series.
Kharlamov Division winner Metallurg Magnitogorsk, at 103 points, required six games to defeat Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (92) after dropping Game 1, 2-1. Metallurg responded with a 2-0 win in Game 2 before a 6-0 hammering of Yekateringburg in Game 3. Down, but not out, Avtomobilist came back to win 3-1 in Game 4 to even the series at 2 games each. Magnitogorsk pulled away with 4-2 and 5-2 wins to close out the series in their favor.
Sibir Novoibirsk with the second most points in the east at 105 points, were paired with Admiral Vladivostok (95) from the Russian east coast. Sibir broke out on top with a 4-2 win followed by a 4-0 shutout. They put the clamps on the series with a 3-1 win in Game 3. Admiral saved face with a 2-0 win in Game 4 before Novosibirsk finished them off with a 4-2 win in Game 5 to advance to the next round.
The final series was the longest of the opening round, as Salavat Yulaev Ufa (101) battled Ak Bars Kazan (96). Ufa won Game 1 by a score of 4-1 and went ahead 2-0 when the took Game 2 by a score of 5-2. Ak Bars stayed in the series with a 3-0 victory in the third game but Ufa put them on the brink with a 4-1 win in Game 4. Ak Bars stayed alive with a 4-3 win in Game 5 and forced a decisive final game with their 8-0 demolition of Ufa in Game 6. Kazan continued their form from Game 6 with a goal by Dimitri Arkhipov just 38 seconds into Game 7. Salavat Yulaev got up off the mat with a response just 27 seconds later. At the 15:09 mark of the first period, Ufa was on top for the first time since the first period of Game 5. They extended their lead to 3-1 with a late goal in the second period and held off Ak Bars over the final 20 minutes despite a Kazan goal to make the final score 3-2 for Ufa to give them the series win in the full seven games.
Here are highlights of the opening round of Gagarin Cup playoff action.
The teams were then reseeded for the Conference Semifinals which began on March 7th and #1 overall seed CSKA Moscow were defeated 2-1 by Torpedo Nizhny Novogorod in a close 2-1 game. CSKA answered the wakeup call and took the next four in a row, 5-1, 3-1, 5-3 and 3-2 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Dynamo Moscow then drew SKA Saint Petersburg, with Game 1 going to SKA 4-1. Dynamo fought back with a 4-3 overtime Game 2 with Alexander Osipov scoring the game winner. Dynamo then took the series lead after a 4-0 shutout on the road with Alexander Yeryomenko making 34 saves for the win. Two days later SKA goaltender Mikko Koskinen returned the favor as Saint Petersburg won by an identical 4-0 score. SKA's 4-1 win in Game 5 put them up 3 games to 2 before Koskinen's second shutout in four days 2-0 gave SKA the series 4 games to 2 and a date with CSKA.
Over in the Eastern Conference, #1 seed Avangard Omsk was paired against Salavat Yulaev Ufa, who came back from a 2-1 third period deficit to win 3-2 in overtime. Omsk evened the series at 1-1 with a 5-4 win in Game 2. Back at home, Ufa put up back to back 3-1 and 2-1 wins to go up 3 games to 1. Avangard took Game 5 in Omsk 3-2 and forced a Game 7 with their 3-1 win in Game 6. In Omsk, Avangard broke out on top in the first period 1-0, but a pair of second period goals for Salavat Yulaev from Serei Soin and Maxim Mayorov proved decisive as Ufa eliminated the number one seed in the east. Below are highlights from the series Game 7.
The final place in the Eastern Conference finals would be decided between Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Sibir Novosibirsk. Game 1 went to Magnitogorsk only to have Game 2 be decided in favor of Sibir by identical 3-1 scores. Metallurg dominated Game 3 by a 5-1 score for a 2-1 series advantage.
Controversy erupted in Game 4, as, after Sibir tied the game with their goaltender pulled to force overtime with 26 seconds left in regulation, a puck hit one of the Magnitogorsk players as he was coming onto the ice during the extra period. Sibir begged for a Too Many Men on the Ice penalty, but play was allowed to continue and Metallurg scored the game winner. Sibir demanded the result be overturned, but the league upheld the result for Magnitogorsk and a 3-1 series lead.
Metallurg then closed out the series with a 2-1 win in Game 5 to advance to the next round.
Here are highlights from Salavat's 2-1 Game 4 win over Omsk and the highlights for the controversial Game 4 between Sibir and Metallurg, a game which featured some amazing passing.
The Western Conference Finals begin on Tuesday, March 22nd when CSKA hosts SKA and current playoff scoring leaders Vadim Shipachyov and Nikita Gusev in Moscow at the Ice Palace.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference Finals begin on Wednesday, March 23rd when regular season scoring champion Sergei Mozyakin (67 points in 57 games) and Metallurg hosts Salavat Yylaev Ufa in Magnitogorsk for the right to advance to the Gagarin Cup Finals.
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