Saturday, 24 April 2010

On The Russian Brink

Before next weekend, the KHL will award the Gagarin Cup to one of the two teams currently in the final, and a champion will be crowned in the Kontinental Hockey League. HC MVD and Ak Bars Kazan are competing for the highest honour in Russia's top league. Kazan is the defending champion, while MVD is building themselves into a solid program. Let's take a look at how the final is going, and who has the best chance of winning the Gagarin Cup.

Game One: The series kicked off Thursday, April 15 between the Western Conference Champions in HC MVD and the Eastern Conference Champions in Ak Bars Kazan. 6060 fans attended Game One, witnessing a great game between these two teams.

HC MVD opened the scoring in the second period at 6:51 when Alexei Ugarov scored his eighth of the playoffs past Petri Vehanen. Kazan evened the score 2:54 later when defenceman Alexei Yemelin fired his second goal of the playoffs past Michael Garnett. HC MVD went back up by a goal at the 13:00 mark as Pavel Trakhanov scored his first of the playoffs on the powerplay. At 18:51, Niko Kapanen's sixth goal of the playoffs drew Kazan even again, and the two teams would enter the second intermission tied at 2-2.

Just 4:05 into the third period, Dmitry Obukhov netted his second of the playoffs, and Kazan jumped ahead for the first time in the game. It would be all that Vehanen needed as he shut the door the rest of the way, and Kazan took Game One by the 3-2 score.

Game Two: Friday, April 16 had the two teams back in battle, and 6080 fans turned out for this one with Ak Bars Kazan holding the 1-0 series lead. Would the hometown fans go home happy again?

Kazan opened the scoring in the second period just 1:18 into the period. With Filip Novak in the penalty box, Grigory Panin scored his first goal of the playoffs while playing four-on-four, and Kazan led 1-0. MVD's Yuri Babenko was called for a penalty at 15:08, and Kazan's powerplay lasted all of 19 seconds before Dmitry Obukhov scored his third goal of the playoffs to put Kazan up 2-0. After forty minutes, Ak Bars Kazan had a two-goal lead with one period to play, and would start the third period on a five-on-three powerplay with MVD's Filip Novak and Maxim Velikov in the penalty box.

Just two seconds after Novak was let out of the sin bin, Kazan struck again. Jarkko Immonen's third goal of the playoffs came on the powerplay at the 1:00 mark, and Kazan improved their lead to 3-0. Kazan's Evgeny Bodrov was sent off at 4:37 for hooking, and MVD's powerplay struck. Martin Strbak's point shot found the back of the net at 5:19 of the third period, and MVD trailed 3-1. However, Dmitry Obukhov iced the game for Kazan with sixteen seconds to play, and Kazan skated to the 4-1 win and 2-0 series lead.

Game Three:: MVD returned home on Monday, April 19 finding themselves deep in a hole against the defending champs, and they needed to rally to make their way back into the series. 7600 fans turned out to cheer on the Moscow-based team in their battle against Ak Bars Kazan.

Alexei Ugarov got the home squad on the board on the powerplay. After Kazan's Roman Kukumberg was given a four-minute double-minor for high-sticking, MVD's powerplay unit struck at 6:26 with Ugarov's ninth goal of the playoffs, giving HC MVD the early 1-0 lead. Kazan responded at 13:01. Alexei Yemelin's third goal of the playoffs evened the score at 1-1, and the score would remain that way through the first intermission. And the second intermission.

In the third period, the deadlock was broken when HC MVD's Maxim Velikov scored at the 9:26 mark to put MVD up 2-1. HC MVD added to their lead when Alexei Tertyshny scored his second goal of the playoffs at 13:18, and MVD had a 3-1 lead with 6:42 to play. Kazan cut the deficit to one goal at 17:23 when Stepan Zakharchuk scored his first goal of the playoffs. However, Michael Garnett turned away Kazan for the remainder of the game, and HC MVD claimed the 3-2 victory to make the series 2-1 in favour of Ak Bars Kazan.

Game Four: Tuesday, April 20 had the two teams back in action. Kazan looked to put MVD on the brink, while MVD looked to even the series. 8140 fans packed the arena to witness Game Four in the Gagarin Cup Final.

2:18 into the second period, the home team got on the board. HC MVD's Evgeny Fedorov scored his fourth of the playoffs, and MVD was out to the 1-0 lead. At 12:02, Kazan pulled even on Roman Kukumberg's fifth goal of the playoffs, and the game was tied at 1-1. The score would remain this way into the third period.

At 5:53 of the third, HC MVD grabbed a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Yury Dobryshkin's first goal of the playoffs would be the game-winner as Michael Garnett and the MVD defence prevented Kazan from scoring any additional goals, and HC MVD took the 2-1 victory to even the series at 2-2. The series suddenly becomes a best-of-three series, and the series shifts back to Kazan on Friday.

Game Five: With the series tied 2-2, both teams were looking for a victory to put themselves one victory away from hoisting the Gagarin Cup. Home teams had won all four games thus far, so Kazan had an advantage in playing Game Five on home ice in front of 6120 fans.

Kazan struck first at 13:38 of the first period. Dmitry Obukhov scored his fifth goal of the playoffs, and his fourth of this series, when he beat Michael Garnett. Kazan led 1-0. Less than two minutes later, MVD's Filip Novak scored his second goal of the playoffs on the powerplay after Kazan's Andrei Mukhachev had been sent off for contact to the head. The powerplay goal at 15:22 evened the score at 1-1, and that score would stand through the intermission.

HC MVD took the lead in the second period. Denis Kokarev's sxith goal of the playoffs got past Petri Vehanen at the 19:08 mark, and it appeared that MVD would carry the lead into the intermission at 2-1. However, with five seconds remaining in the period, Kazan defenceman Alexei Yemelin netted his fourth goal of the series, and the two teams were tied again as the zamboni took to the ice.

6:07 into the third period saw HC MVD regain the lead. Roman Derlyuk's first goal of the playoffs was a big one as it would turn out to be the game-winner. HC MVD's defence held strong, and Michael Garnett turned away all of Kazan's shots in the third period to give the visiting team the victory at 3-2. With the win, HC MVD stands one win away from hoisting the Cup as they lead the series by that same 3-2 margin.

Game Six: That happens tomorrow, and HC MVD will be at home against Kazan. There's a good possibility that the Western Conference Champions could dethrone the defending KHL Champions, but Kazan has a very talented team and shouldn't be taken for granted.

Both teams will undoubtedly come out flying, so it should make for a phenomenal game!

In terms of the playoff statistics, Alexander Radulov of Salavat Yulaev Ufa still leads with 19 points despite his team being eliminated. Radulov also shares the assist lead with HC MVD's Alexei Tsvetkov at 11 assists. There is a new goal-scoring leader, however, as HC MVD's Alexei Ugarov's nine goals is one better than Radulov's this postseason.

Of the two teams still playing, HC MVD's Alexei Tsvetkov leads the way with 16 points, while AK Bars Kazan's Niko Kapanen leads his team with 15 points. As stated above, Alexei Ugarov leads HC MVD in goals with nine, while Niko Kapanen leads Kazan with six goals.

It should be a great game tomorrow afternoon, and I'll try to update everyone tomorrow to see if there was a championship awarded, or if a seventh game will be needed. The game starts at 5pm local time in Russia, so we're looking at a morning game here in North America. Again, I'll look to update this tomorrow.

I'll also try to bring together all of the possible expansion and contraction news from the KHL, and have that ready to go later this week. There are some teams looking to join the KHL, and one story about a long-time club that is closing its doors for good after this season. This will be upcoming later in the week.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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