Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Electric Dynamo Win

If you had spent some time reading HBIC's Gagarin Cup Playoff recap a week back, you would already know that Avangard Omsk Oblast of the Eastern Conference would face Dynamo Moscow of the Western Conference for Russian hockey supremacy. Avangard was the second-seeded team in the East while Dynamo was the third-seeded team in the West, but Dynamo actually finished the season with more points than Avangard. Both teams had received spectacular goaltending and timely scoring to dispatch the three teams that stood in their way to the final, and Russian hockey's biggest prize was on the line as these two storied teams squared off for the KHL Championship.

Game One

Game One of the Gagarin Cup Final went at the raucous Arena Omsk, and the home team got a boost when they were sent to the powerplay just 26 seconds in. While they wouldn't score on that man-advantage, Roman Cervenka put Omsk up 1-0 at 4:47 on with his 11th goal of the postseason. Omsk carried the play in the first period, but Moscow goaltender Alexander Yeryomenko stopped the remaining 16 shots as the teams went into the intermission with a 1-0 score.

Moscow, showing the same resiliency they had in earlier series, broke through in the second period as Leonid Komarov led a three-on-two, and opted to shoot the puck. Karri Ramo couldn't keep it from crossing the line, and Komarov's third goal of the playoffs at 10:05 knotted the game up at 1-1. Both teams really played defensively in this period as they only took a combined 11 shots through 20 minutes. With the game tied 1-1, would we be seeing another defensive stalemate?

Just 3:59 into the third period, Avangard Omsk Oblast grabbed the lead once again. Alexander Perezhogin notched his fifth goal of the playoffs when he banged in a rebound to put Omsk up 2-1. Omsk really played shutdown hockey after regaining the lead, limiting Moscow to just seven shots in the third period with most being of little risk to Omsk. When the final horn had sounded, Avangard Omsk Oblast had drawn first blood with their 2-1 victory.

Game Two

Game Two started furiously again as the Omsk put on a skating and shooting display for their fans. But Moscow weathered the storm and jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Denis Kokarev sped around Omsk defenceman Anton Belov and poked home his first of the playoffs at the 7:57 mark of the first period. It looked like it would be another one-goal lead as the team's headed to the dressing rooms, but a late powerplay in the period gave Moscow the advantage they needed. Ilya Gorokhov's point blast was tipped by Leonid Komarov, and his deflection found its way behind Karri Ramo for Komarov's fourth goal of the playoffs and a 2-0 Moscow lead after the first frame.

The second period saw chances on both sides, but both goaltenders held up their end of the bargain as the final period saw the 2-0 Moscow lead open the period. Just 51 seconds into the third period, Alexander Perezhogin buried his sixth goal of the playoffs past Yeryomenko to cut Omsk's deficit to one goal. Despite out-shooting Moscow by a 17-3 margin, Omsk could only get one past Yeryomenko, and Dynamo Moscow would square the series at 1-1 with the series heading to Moscow for Games Three and Four.

Game Three

If this series was all about defence and goaltending in getting these two teams to the Gagarin Cup Final, Game Three was a perfect example of how to play hockey in the playoffs. The two teams began with chances at either end, but it was Alexander Perezhogin who opened the scoring with his seventh goal - and third of the final - at 12:57 of the opening frame on a great shot. Like the previous games, the team that opened the scoring would carry a shutout into the intermission as Omsk took the 1-0 lead into the break.

For the remainder of the game, both Ramo and Yeryomenko matched each other save for save, and the two teams battled through the second and third periods with no additional goals. There was a furious barrage that Dynamo Moscow unleashed on Omsk's goal, but Ramo held strong to record the first shutout of the final. Perezhogin's goal would stand as the winner as Omsk took a 2-1 series lead on the strength of their 1-0 win.

Game Four

Dynamo Moscow needed to rebound to even the series once again, and it was decided that Artyom Chernov would be inserted into the line-up for his first game in the 2011-12 KHL Playoffs. Chernov would play a significant role in this game as he notched his first goal of the playoffs by firing home a rebound just 5:22 into the game to put Moscow up 1-0 on home ice. The trend of scoring first and holding the shutout would continue, and Moscow took their one-goal lead into the break.

Nearly 13 minutes after the period began, Omsk was on the board with a goal. Alexander Perezhogin dazzled the crowd with some nifty stickhandling before dishing the puck off to Alexander Popov for his fourth goal of the playoffs at the 12:51 mark. While Moscow outshot Omsk in the second period 10-8, the score was even once again with twenty minutes to play.

The third period was played with a better defensive awareness, but both teams continued to pepper the goaltenders with shots. Moscow threw 13 at Karri Ramo while Omsk responded with 10 on Yeryomenko, but none of them dented the twine in that period, so we were looking at overtime for the first time in the final.

Just 8:15 into the overtime period, one name popped up yet again as the game-winning goal scorer. Here's the video of that goal.
Perezhogin's fourth goal of the series and eighth of the playoffs pushed Dynamo Moscow to the brink of elimination as Avangard Omsk Oblast won Game Four 2-1 in overtime for a 3-1 series lead.

Game Five

With the series moving back to Omsk, it appeared that Moscow was in a very deep hole in enemy territory, so they needed a big swing in momentum to get this series back to Moscow. In a rather surprising twist, Omsk defenceman Anton Belov was forced to miss this game due to a failed drug test. The loss of one of Omsk's best rearguards could have major implications on this game and series!

Just 3:44 in, Moscow's leading scorer Mikhail Anisin got onto the scoresheet with his 14th goal of the playoffs off a nice pass from Konstantin Gorovikov. Just 5:59 later, Moscow increased their lead to 2-0 when Yuri Babenko got a little help to score his first goal of the playoffs. Karri Ramo accidentally knocked the puck over the goal line, and Moscow doubled their lead on the miscue. The team that opened the scoring once again carried a shutout into the intermission as Moscow started the second frame with the 2-0 lead.

Five minutes into the second period, Konstantin Gorovikov ripped a shot past Ramo for his sixth goal of the playoffs, and Dynamo Moscow had the first three-goal lead of the series. However, Omsk began to show some life, and they cut the deficit to two goals when Anton Kuryanov's tight-angle shot deflected off a skate and past Yeryomenko for his third goal of the season at the 11:52 mark of the second period. Omsk was not out of the woods yet, though, as they trailed 3-1 after forty minutes.

While Omsk would pour on the pressure in the third period, they could only manage one goal in a scramble with just 19 seconds left in the game. Yury Alexandrov scored his second goal of the playoffs, but Dynamo Moscow lived to play at least one more game with their 3-2 victory in Game Five.

Game Six

Belov's suspension for the banned stimulant would continue, and Omsk was forced to take the ice without him in Game Six. Would Omsk be able to overcome this loss in this game and capture their first KHL Championship, or would a Game Seven be needed to settle this series?

It didn't start well for Omsk when Belov's replacement, Yury Alexandrov, got beat by Konstantin Gorovikov who setup Leonid Komarov for an easy tap-in for Komarov's fifth goal of the playoffs just 53 seconds in. 8:02 later, Omsk evened the score when former NHL defenceman Martin Skoula converted a diagonal cross-ice pass from Alexei Kalyuzhny for his first goal of the playoffs. But Moscow would restore their one-goal lead when Karri Ramo left a rebound in a bad spot, and Denis Mosalev buried the puck in the back of the net for his fifth of the playoffs at 15:46. Omsk's Dmitry Syomin was whistled for tripping at 17:14, but he spent less than the full two minutes in the sin bin as Filip Novak hammered a puck past Ramo on the powerplay for his second playoff goal at 18:31. Moscow went to the dressing room with a 3-1 lead in the game after twenty minutes.

The crowd was singing at the 11:58 mark when Moscow forward Marek Kvapil found himself on a partial breakaway. While he was forced behind the net, Kvapil's centering pass as he circled the net hit Georgijs Pujacs and found its way past Karri Ramo for Kvapil's seventh goal of the playoffs and a 4-1 Dynamo Moscow lead. While Omsk was still getting good chances, Yeryomenko was incredible in stopping all 12 shots he faced, including several that looked like sure goals.

Omsk eventually broke through in the third period again as Martin Skoula's second goal of the game was a rocket of a one-timer from Kirill Lyamin that beat Yeryomenko at the 11:53 mark. Any comeback, however, was killed when Kvapil scored his second goal of the game and eighth of the playoffs into an open net with 1:50 remaining. Dynamo Moscow would force this series to a Game Seven with their 5-2 victory.

Game Seven

In a series where defence and goaltending determined most of the scores, Game Seven was yet another example of how excellent goaltending and smart defensive play can make or break the hopes and dreams of any team. Both Alexander Yeryomenko and Karri Ramo were favorites as the KHL Playoff MVP, so this game would most likely determine which of these two players would win the accolade.

Both teams took the action to the opposing goaltender in the opening frame, but neither team could find a hole through Karri Ramo or Alexander Yeryomenko. There were a few tense moments when goal-mouth scrambles produced gasps and cheers, but the horn at the end of the first period sent the teams to the dressing rooms in a 0-0 deadlock.

Omsk began to assert their control on the game in second period. They held Dynamo Moscow to a mere four shots, but they could not find a way to solve Yeryomenko. The Dynamo goaltender was spectacular in the second period as he turned Omsk aside again and again. Neither team could dent the twine in the middle frame, so there would be at least twenty more minutes needed to determine a winner.

With the way both teams and both goaltenders were playing, it looked like an overtime goal may end this contest, but the lmap was lit at the 12:03 mark of the third period when the Avangard Omsk Oblast defensive corps made an error in coverage, and it gave Dynamo Moscow the chance they needed.
Jakub Klepis cycled the puck in the corner and did what he was supposed to do on the cycle: head to the net. With the puck in the corner, all four Omsk defenders get caught watching Marek Kvapil in the corner as Klepis finds himself wide-open in the slot. One backhand pass to the slot was all Moscow needed as Klepis got a couple of whacks at the puck before it got past Ramo for the all-important 1-0 lead with just 7:57 to play.

Omsk poured on the pressure, needing a goal to keep the series and their shot at the Gagarin Cup going. Yeryomenko made a couple of key saves, including one on former NHLer Alexander Frolov, to preserve the shutout and the win for Dynamo Moscow as their 1-0 victory gave them the 4-3 series win, and completed the comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. Your 2012 KHL Champions are the Dynamo Moscow!

"I'm almost without emotion," Dynamo coach Oleg Znarok told media after the game. "It's a kind of emptiness and fatigue. I want to thank the players for the trust and character they showed right through the playoffs. It was all very difficult and tense but we went step by step to our success and I'm happy that everything ended well.

"Even when it was 1-3 I had no doubts about these guys and I was confident we could still do it. That's why I said it was only just starting, and I was right. We won because we were the better team. There’s no other way to succeed in sport."

Alexander Yeryomenko was voted as the KHL Playoff MVP after conceding just ten goals in seven games, and he truly earned the accolade after backstopping his team from the 3-1 series deficit. Yeryomenko showed he's a class act as his acceptance comments included those men who had fallen in the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv tragedy earlier this season. "I'd like to dedicate this win to the guys on the Lokomotiv team who are no longer with us," he told R-Sport. "I’m sure everyone on our team would agree with me. It's been tough for everyone throughout the season, coming to terms with it. We've all had to quietly step around it and play. We'll always remember those guys."

Dynamo forward Mikhail Anisin set a new KHL Playoff record with his 14 postseason goals, and linemate Konstantin Gorovikov led the playoffs with 14 assists. Overall, Avangard forward Roman Cervenka led the playoffs in scoring with 21 points on the strength of 11 goals and 10 assists.

Congratulations go out to Dynamo Moscow, the 2011-12 Gagarin Cup Champions!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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