Saturday, 17 April 2010

Champs Have Stranglehold

With the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs underway, there aren't a lot of people paying attention to the championship being played out in the Kontinental Hockey League right now. However, there should be some attention paid to this league as there is a great series being played between Ak Bars Kazan, the defending KHL Champions, and HC MVD for the Gagarin Cup. Ak Bars Kazan is in familiar territory having been one of the most successful Russian Super League teams before joining the upstart KHL, and they are continuing that success in the 2009-10 KHL Playoffs.

Game One went Thursday. 6:51 into the second period saw the first goal scored. Alexei Ugarov put the Western Conference Champions in HC MVD up 1-0 on his eighth goal of the playoffs. 2:54 later, Kazan's Alexei Yemelin fired his second goal of the playoffs past MVD's Michael Garnett, and the game was tied 1-1. MVD went up 2-1 before the end of the period when defenceman Pavel Trakhanov scored his first goal of the playoffs on the powerplay with a shot that eluded Petri Vehanen at the 13:00 mark. Kazan, however, responded when Niko Kapanen scored his sixth goal of the playoffs 5:51 later to make it 2-2.

The third period saw the game-winning goal scored at 4:05. Dmitry Obukhov netted his second goal of the playoffs. From there, Petri Vehanen continued his spectacular play as he has throughout the playoffs, and secured the 3-2 victory for Ak Bars Kazan in Game One. The Eastern Conference Champions jumped out to the 1-0 series lead.

Game Two went Friday night, and the defending champions sent a statement to HC MVD. The scoring opened early in the second period. Filip Novak was sent off for tripping, and Kazan took to the powerplay at 1:18 of the second. Ten seconds after the drop of the puck, Grigory Panin scored his first goal of the playoffs to put Kazan up 1-0. At 15:27 of the second, Kazan doubled their lead when Dmitry Obukhov scored his third goal of the playoffs on the powerplay after Yuri Babenko had been sent to MVD's sin bin. Kazan was out to a 2-0 victory after 40 minutes of play.

Just 1:00 into the third period, Kazan jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Jarkko Immonen scored his third goal of the playoffs past Michael Garnett, and the defending champs had a commanding lead with 19 minutes to play. At 5:19, Martin Skrbak scored a powerplay goal for MVD, and the lead was cut to 3-1 on Skrbak's fourth of the playoffs. However, Kazan iced the game at 19:44 when Dmitry Obukhov scored an empty-net goal for the 4-1 Kazan victory.

HC MVD shouldn't be worried about being down 2-0 in the series. They were facing elimination in their previous round against Yaroslavl Lokomotiv at 3-2 before winning the next two games to advance to the Gagarin Cup Final. However, Kazan has been preaching the mantra that they cannot get complacent with a 2-0 series lead.

As for the stats race, Salavat's Alexander Radulov still has the KHL Playoff lead in goals (8), assists (11), and points (19). Of the active players, Niko Kapanen of Kazan and Alexei Tsvetkov of MVD have 14 points apiece. MVD's Alexei Ugarov leads the way eight goals, while Kazan's Jarkko Immomen and MVD's Tsvetkov have nine helpers apiece. Kazan's Petri Vehanen has a sparkling 1.54 GAA and 94.2% save percentage, while MVD's Michael Garnett has a 2.22 GAA and a 90.2% save percentage.

Kazan hosts Games Three and Four on Monday and Tuesday, so MVD will have an uphill battle the rest of the way. The defending champions can secure the Gagarin Cup for the second year in a row, and do it in front of their fans if they can sweep HC MVD. These next two games should be very interesting!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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