Thursday, March 23, 2017

2017 KHL Gagarin Cup Playoff Update

While the NHL season still has over two weeks left to play, the Kontinental Hockey League is already reached the Semifinals of the Gagarin Cup Playoffs.

 photo Gagarin_Cup_zps79a8b569.jpg
The Gagarin Cup

In the Western Conference, CSKA Moscow, winners of the Tarasov Division as well as the Kontinental Cup as regular season champions (for the third consecutive time) with 137 points, was the #1 seed and drew the Finnish club Jokert Helsinki, the #8 seed with 93 points. CSKA advanced to the conference semifinals winning in 4 straight.

CSKA Moscow Logo

#2 seed SKA Saint Petersburg (Bobrov Division champions with an equal 137 points but two less wins than CSKA), led by a scoring brigade of Ilya Kovalchuk (78 points in 60 games), Vadim Shipachyov (76), Nikita Gusev (71) and Evgeny Dadonov (66), who finished 2-3-4-5 in KHL scoring, swept HC Vityaz (93 points) from the Moscow region in four straight games. Dynamo Moscow (112 points) and #3 seed, needed 5 games to eliminate Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. All the favorites advanced in the opening round when #4 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (110) defeated the Belarus club Dinamo Minsk (105) in five games as well.

Kovalchuk SKA
Ilya Kovalchuk

Over in the Eastern Conference, #1 Metallurg Magnitogorsk (Kharlamov Division winners with 124 points) and led by the KHL's leading scorer Sergei Mozyakin (85 points in 60 games) faced #8 Kulun Red Star from China (83 points), who did well to reach the playoffs in their first season, and Metallurg advanced easily with a 4-1 margin. #2 Avangard Omsk (Chernyshev Division winners with 109 points) was the first team to require even as much as six games to advance over #7 Admiral Vladivostok, one of two teams from the far east of Russia seven time zones difference from Moscow.

Artyom Zagidulin and Sergei Mozyakin
Goaltender Artyom Zagidulin and Sergei Mozyakin
of Metallurg Magnitogorsk

#3 Ak Bars Kazan (109) eliminated #6 Salavat Yulaev Ufa (88) in another five game series while #5 Barys Astana (90) of Kazakhstan became the sole lower seeded team ,and the only non-Russian side, to advance out of the first round when they defeated #4 Traktor Chelyabinsk (97) in the only other 6 game series in the first round.

The teams were reseeded after the first round, which saw #1 CSKA paired with #4 Lokomotiv. The teams split the first two games before Lokomotiv reeled off three straight wins to upset the three-time KHL regular season winners and deny them their first championship since 1989.

In the other Western Conference matchup, #3 Dynamo Moscow's league leading goaltender Alexander Yeryomenko was not enough to hold off #2 SKA, who survived an opening game overtime loss to win the next four by allowing Dynamo only 4 goals in the last four games.

Alexander Yeryomenko
Dynamo Moscow goaltender Alexander Yeryomenko
stopping Ilya Kovalchuk of SKA

In the East, #1 Magnitogorsk opened with a opening game shutout over #5 Barys on their way to a four game sweep, which was harder than it sounds, with two of the games requiring overtime for Metallurg to prevail.

The last semifinalist was decided between #2 Avangard and #3 Ak Bars, with Ak Bars upsetting the higher seed in a six game series to advance.

KHL west

The Western Conference Finals get underway today with #2 SKA Saint Petersburg hosting #4 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl for a spot in the Gagarin Cup Finals. Mikko Koskinen of Finland is the goaltender for SKA and currently has a measly 1.41 GAA and a gaudy 94.2% save percentage to go with his 8-1 playoff record to date.

Mikko Koskinen
SKA goaltender Mikko Koskinen wearing the unusual #19

The game begins at 7:30 PM Moscow time, which translates to 12:30 PM in the Eastern time zone in North America for those looking to watch the games online.

KHL east

The Eastern Conference Finals start tomorrow, as the defending champion and #1 seed Metallurg Magnitogorsk host #3 Ak Bars Kazan in a game that starts at 5:00 PM Moscow time, which is 10:00 AM in North America. Magnitogorsk will be hard to stop, as they have four of the top five playoff scorers in Danis Zaripov (17 points in 9 games), Jan Kovar (17), regular season leading scorer Mozyakin (14) and Canadian defenseman Chris Lee (14). The job of stopping them falls to Emil Garipov for Kazan, who is second in the postseason with a 1.59 GAA and a 93.8% save percentage.

For those wishing to keep closer tabs on the KHL playoffs, here is a link to the current game schedule.

Today's featured jersey is a 2016-17 Metallurg Magnitogorsk Sergei Mozyakin jersey as worn by this season's KHL scoring champion.

Metallurg was founded in 1955 and in the 1980s played in the third level of Soviet hockey, winning championships in 1989 and 1990. They moved up to the top level of Russian hockey in 1992 when the joined the new International Hockey League, the first post-Soviet major league. As the leagues came and went during that era, the joined the Russian Superleague in 1996 and played in the finals six times, winning three championships in 1999, 2001 and 2007. During this era, the club iced its most well known alumni, Evgeni Malkin, won the Spengler Cup in 2005 and made headlines when they hired the first North American head coach for a Russian club when they hired Canadian Dave King for the 2005-06 season.

They were a founding member of the KHL in 2008-09 and have won championships in 2014 and 2016.

Mozyakin, a veteran, began his pro career with CSKA Moscow in the Russian Superleague in the 2000-01 season. He played for Red Army for five seasons, scoring 20 goals twice. He then played two seasons for Khimik Moscow Oblast, with whom he set a career high with 37 goals in 2007-08. When Khimik relocated for the 2008-09 season, Mozyakin joined Atlant, who took the place of Khimik in the Moscow Oblast region. He immediately set a career high with 76 points in 56 games during the inaugural KHL season.

After three seasons with Atlant, Mozyakin joined Metallurg for the 2011-12 season and is now in his fifth season with the club. Since 2005-06, Mozyakin has now scored 20 goals or more in 11 consecutive seasons, with five of those being over 30 in the shorter KHL season.

Mozyakin led the RSL in scoring in 2006 and again in 2008. While in the KHL, he has gone on to win the scoring race in 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014 and again in 2017. It should come as little surprize that Mozyakin is the KHL's all time leading scorer. He has won the Gagarin Cup in 2014 and 2016 while captain of Metallurg.

At the World Championships, he has played for Russia on seven occasions, winning gold medals in 2008 and 2009, along with silver in 2010 and 2015 and a bronze in 2016.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2016-17 F jersey
Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2016-17 B jersey

If you would like to purchase your own 2016-17 KHL jersey from Metallurg or many other teams, please visit our friends at Lutch USA.

In today's video section, first Ak Bars moves on to the Conference Finals by eliminating Omsk followed by Lokomotiv eliminating regular season champions CSKA. Then, after Lokomotiv?CSKA highlights, Dynamo Moscow is eliminated by SKA and Barys season comes to an end in overtime at the hands of Magnitogorsk.

Finally, Mozyakin scores his 1,000th career point, all the more impressive when you factor in that a KHL season is 25% shorter than an NHL schedule.

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