Monday, 3 May 2010

Defending The Trophy

There is a lot of luck, skill, and determination that needs to come together at the right time to defend a championship. Injuries, bad goals, and some untimely bad play can result in a loss and, if that loss is a deciding game, an earlier-than-wanted summer vacation. However, we have our first back-to-back defence of the Gagarin Cup as Ak Bars Kazan won their second KHL Championship in consecutive seasons. Congratulations goes out to the Snow Leopards on their victory!

As we examined last Saturday, HC MVD had the defending champions on the ropes as they had claimed a 3-2 series lead. Game Six would be played in Kazan before the series returned to Moscow for Game Seven if necessary. If there's anything that needs to be said, it's that one should never count the defending champions out.

Game Six: If a statement game was needed, this was it. After all, another loss for Kazan would allow HC MVD to hoist the Gagarin Cup as champions for the first time in the KHL. The Eastern Conference Champions not only sent a statement, but hammered home a message in Game Six on April 25.

With MVD's Alexander Shibaev sitting in the penalty box for slashing at 5:54 of the first period, Kazan opened the scoring. Niko Kapanen's seventh of the playoffs came on the powerplay at 6:36, and Kazan was out to the early 1-0 lead. Kazan added to the lead at 18:19 when Grigory Panin scored his second goal of the playoffs, putting Kazan ahead 2-0. The score would carry through to the intermission as the home team looked good through the first twenty minutes.

Penalties continued to hurt MVD in the second period. MVD was whistled for too many men on the ice at 1:13, and Kazan made them pay. Jarkko Immonen's fourth goal of the playoffs was notched at 2:37 on the powerplay, and Kazan was up 3-0. MVD's Pavel Trakhonov was called for tripping at 10:34, and the lethal Kazan powerplay tallied another. Ilya Nikulin ripped a shot past goaltender Michael Garnett at 12:21 for his fifth of the playoffs, and the powerplay marker put Kazan up 4-0. Some four-on-four play resulted in Kazan's Alexander Stepanov scoring his first goal of the playoffs, and the Eastern Conference Champions were out to a 5-0 lead as MVD's Michael Garnett was done and heading towards the bench. After forty minutes, though, Kazan had built a nearly-insurmountable lead, but twenty minutes remained.

10:26 into the third period had Kazan extend its lead further. Nikita Alexeyev potted his third of the playoffs past MVD's Alexei Volkov to give Kazan a 6-0 lead. With both teams playing some four-on-four, Kazan capitalized again. Alexei Yemelin netted his fifth of the playoffs at 13:32, and the Kazan rout was getting ridiculous at 7-0. At 17:51, MVD snapped Petri Vehanen's shutout as Alexander Shibaev's powerplay goal was scored with Andrei Mukhachev was off for holding. With 2:09 to play, Shibaev's first of the playoffs drew MVD closer at 7-1, but it was all Kazan needed.

A statement was sent, and in bold fashion, by the defending champions. With the series returning to Moscow on April 27, both teams were playing for the KHL's biggest prize in a do-or-die game.

Game Seven: Kazan's captain, Alexei Morozov, was injured in Game Six, so he sat this one out. This appeared to be a huge blow to the Kazan attack as Morozov's two-way play was a large part of his team's success. With sixty minutes to decide the 2010 KHL Champion, the puck was dropped in Moscow on the biggest game of the year.

Comparatively to Game Six, Game Seven had far less physical action. Three penalties in the first period were all that was on the scoresheet, but there were several scoring chances at both ends. However, both MVD's Michael Garnett and Kazan's Petri Vehanen were equal to the task, and the game remained scoreless through the first twenty minutes.

Just 1:18 into the second period, however, we saw our first goal.

Nikita Alexeyev pots his fourth goal of the playoffs past Michael Garnett, and Kazan took the 1-0 lead.

Play would go back and forth after Alexeyev's goal, and we saw another marker scored at 15:16 of the second period.
Niko Kapanen's fast hands in front of the net shelved the puck over Garnett for his eighth of the playoffs, and Kazan was up 2-0. Honestly, the pass from Dmitry Kazionov was like threading a needle, and Kapanen converted on the feed. Gorgeous goal from the Eastern Conference Champions!

Through forty minutes, Ak Bars Kazan had a 2-0 lead, and it appeared that as long as they were committed to their own zone for the last twenty minutes, the Gagarin Cup would be theirs for the second year in a row.

While the action was furious at both ends of the ice, neither team recorded another goal in the game. Petri Vehanen shut the door on MVD, and Kazan showed exactly how much moxie they had by outscoring MVD 9-1 in the final two games of the KHL Final. Kazan's 2-0 win on Tuesday, April 27 gave them their second consecutive Gagarin Cup Championship!

“We just kept battling," Game Seven MVP Ilya Nikulin told Alexei Shevchenko. "Not just for ourselves, but for the injured guys. Unity is our strength. We never surrender when the going gets tough. That little bit extra makes Kazan what it is – not a team of one or two players, but a real, united collective.”

Kazan's Petri Vehanen was selected as the goaltender of the Gagarin Cup Final after posting a 1.70 GAA, a .918 save percentage and one shutout. Kazan's Alexei Yemelin was named the top defenceman in the final series as he posted four goals and four assists while being a +7. And Kazan's Dmitry Obukhov was named the top forward as he scored four goals, two of which were game-winning goals.

Overall, Alexander Radulov of Salavat Yulaev Ufa took home the playoff scoring title as his 19 points stood as the most of any players. HC MVD's Alexei Ugarov was the top goal-scorer in the playoffs as he lit the lamp nine times in the postseason.

Overall, the KHL Playoffs turned out to be an exciting tournament that saw the defending champions rise to the occasion, capturing the Gagarin Cup for the second consecutive season. Congratulations to Ak Bars Kazan, your 2010 KHL Champions!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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