Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 KHL Gagarin Cup Playoff Update

The opening round of the Kontinental Hockey League Gagarin Cup playoffs concluded yesterday with a Game 7 thriller to set the pairings for the Conference Semifinals.

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In the Western Conference, the Tarasov Division, defending KHL champions Dynamo Moscow finished the regular season with the best overall record in the KHL's 54 game season with a, ...ready for this… , 34-2-2-5-0-11 record. That would be 34 wins, 2 overtime wins, 2 shootout wins, 5 shootout losses, 0 overtime losses and 11 regulation losses! It all added up to 115 points and the #1 seed in the West. #2 was SKA Saint Petersburg with 105 points.

Dynamo was paired with the #8 team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who dominated at home after the first five games of the series were all decided by one goal, including three in overtime, with a 6-0 win to force a Game 7 back in Moscow where Lokomotiv got two goals a minute and a half apart to take a 2-0 lead into the second period. Dynamo got one back in the second to send the game into the third period with Lokomotiv up 2-1 and it still anyone's series, but Yaroslavl came out of the gate flying, extending their lead to 3-1 less than a minute into the third on a goal by Sergei Konkov to put the champions on the ropes.

The knockout blow was delivered on a power play, again by Konkov, his second of the period, to give Yaroslavl a 4-1 lead. A last goal with 48 second remaining made the final margin 5-1 and capping off an emotional upset for the ages, just two years removed from the tragedy that wiped out the entire Lokomotiv team and forced the club to start over from scratch just one season ago.

Meanwhile, #2 SKA Saint Petersburg, led by captain Ilya Kovalchuk, swept #7 CSKA Moscow in four straight while #3 Lev Prague of the Czech Republic also swept #6, the Croatian club Medvescak Zagreb 4 games to none.

In the final western pairing, #4 Donbass Donetsk from Ukraine had a tough fight on their hands in the form of the #5 Latvian club Dinamo Riga, who also stayed alive with a Game 6 win at home to force a Game 7. Donbass then prevailed with a 3-1 win to move onto the next round in a game moved to Bratislava, Slovakia due to the political situation in Ukraine at the present.

Over in the Eastern Conference, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, led by first year head coach Canadian Mike Keenan, snared the #1 seed with 108 points, led by Sergei Mozyakin (73 points), Jan Kovar (68) and Danis Zaripov (64), who finished 1-2-3 in the KHL scoring race. They faced the first year expansion club and #8 seed Admiral Vladivostok from far, far eastern Russia next to North Korea on the Sea of Japan, 4,700 miles away from Magnitogorsk, an 8 hour flight. While favored Magnitogorsk moved on, it required three overtime games before they prevailed 4-1.

#2 Barys Astana of Kazakhstan swept #7 Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, with the first two games in Astana requiring overtime.

#3 Ak Bars Kazan squared off against #6 Sibir Novosibirsk in a tough series where the tone was set early when Sibir won Game 1 on the road in Kazan 3-1. Kazan fought back to win Game 2, but required overtime to do so. The teams traded lopsided victories in Novosibirsk in Games 3 & 4 before Sibir won a close 1-0 win in Game 5 and closed out Ak Bars in overtime at home to lower seed to advance with their win on Sunday the 16th.

#4 Savalat Yulaev Ufa battled #5 Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in an odd series, as the road team won the first four games of the series. Order was restored as Salavat won Game 5 at home only to have Torpedo return the favor in Game 6, forcing a deciding Game 7 which went the way of Salavat in a tense 2-1 game, giving them the series victory, with the highlights below.

Additionally, here are highlights with English commentary of the two Game 7's from March 17th, with Lokomotiv defeating Dynamo Moscow followed by Donbass ousting Dinamo Riga in their winner take all match up.

The pairings for the Conference Semifinals are now all set, with #1 Metallurg Magnitogorsk facing #6 Sibir Novosibrisk and well-rested #2 Barys Astana meeting Savalat Yulaev Ufa, who just completed a full seven game series, in the East.

In the Western Conference, #2 SKA Saint Petersburg (also have had plenty of time off following their first round sweep) meets upset minded #8 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl for the right to meet the winner of #3 Lev Prague vs. #4 Donbass Donestsk in the third series where the winner of a first round sweep meets and underdog who just slogged through a full seven games. Will the favorites suffer from having too much time off? Will the underdogs be on a roll, or have they spent too much energy too soon to be able to battle a rested favorite?

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