With the NHL heading down the stretch drive, that means that other league from across the pond is heating up as the Gagarin Cup Playoffs have started in the KHL. I'm not going to build this up very much, but I'll start running down the Western Conference series and what happened in the opening round as the KHL Playoffs are already into Round Two, and we'll pick up the Eastern Conference series tomorrow.
The Western Conference teams that didn't qualify for the playoffs include Donbass Donetsk, Dinamo Minsk, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, Vityaz Chekhov, Spartak Moscow, and Dinamo Riga.
This series featured the top KHL team in SKA Saint Petersburg with 115 points playing against Atlant Moscow Oblast who qualified on the final day of the season by a mere one point with 73 points. If there was a mismatch, this series would probably be the one a bettor would take.
GAME ONE: Stanislav Galimov played a ridiculously great game for Atlant as he stared down SKA Saint Petersburg from his net. After regulation time had expired, the two teams were still knotted in a scoreless draw despite Saint Petersburg outshooting Atlant by a 35-16 margin. However, the game would end quickly in overtime as Patrick Thoresen took a feed from Petr Prucha and converted just 3:42 into the extra frame. Ilya Ezhov recorded the 16-save shutout. SKA SAINT PETERSBURG LEADS 1-0.
GAME TWO: This game was tightly-contested for about 40 minutes, but SKA Saint Peterburg broke free in the third period as they pumped four goals past both Atlant goalies in the final frame. Viktor Tikhonov had a goal and two assists to lead the way, and Saint Petersburg pitched its second straight shutout as they hammered Atlant by a 7-0 score. Ivan Kasutin recorded the 22-save shutout. SKA SAINT PETERSBURG LEADS 2-0.
GAME THREE: Atlant Moscow Oblast returned home looking to change their fates after dropping the first two games. It didn't look good as SKA Saint Petersburg opened the scoring just 2:17 in, but the game began to change as Atlant showed some much better defence in this game. Oleg Yashin tied the game up 3:38 into the second period, and Andreas Engquist put Atlant up for the first time in the series just 1:25 later on the powerplay. The good defence continued, and Mikhail Glukhov added Atlant's third goal on the powerplay with 3:15 left in the middle frame. Both teams had chances in the third period, but the final score was 3-1 in favor of the home team. SKA SAINT PETERSBURG LEADS 2-1.
GAME FOUR: Atlant was looking to carry the momentum over into Game Four, but SKA Saint Petersburg got started early again as Mikhail Varnakov notched his second goal just 1:22 in. Artemy Panarin scored his first for Saint Petersburg on the powerplay with 2:04, putting the visitors up 2-0 after the first period. Two more goals in the second and another two in the third put Saint Petersburg up big before Ivan Vishnevsky broke Ivan Kasutin's shutout with 1:01 to play. Too little, too late, though, as Saint Petersburg skates to a 6-1 win. SKA SAINT PETERSBURG LEADS 3-1.
GAME FOUR: Atlant's playoff lives were on the line in Game Five, but this game was identical to Game Two. One first-period goal, two second-period goals, and four more in the third period paced SKA Saint Petersburg to an easy win as Saint Petersburg threw 45 shots at the Atlant net. Tony Martensson and Mikhail Varnakov each had two goals and an assist, and Ivan Kasutin recorded the 13-save shutout. SKA SAINT PETERSBURG WINS 4-1.
CSKA Moscow was the top team in the Tarasov Division, earning them the second seed with 96 points. Lev Prague finished with 76 points, four ahead of Atlant Moscow Oblast, for seventh-place in the West.
GAME ONE: Game One was back-and-forth in terms of scoring as both teams played a little chess on ice. CSKA led 1-0 after the first period, the score was tied 1-1 after two periods, and there was a 2-2 draw at the end of regulation time. At 14:34 of the overtime period, CSKA's Yakov Rylov snapped a shot past Tomash Pepperle to end the game with a 3-2 win. Alexander Radulov had a pair of assists in the win for CSKA Moscow. CSKA MOSCOW LEADS 1-0.
GAME TWO: Game Two followed the same script for the first two periods - CSKA led 1-0 after the first period, the score was tied 1-1 after two. However, Lev Prague jumped out to the 2-1 lead in the third period before Yakov Rylov scored with 2:02 left in the third period to make it a 2-2 game after 60 minutes. Nearly 30 additional minutes were played before a winner was crowned, and CSKA's Igor Grigorenko found some space through Pepperle at 9:36 for another 3-2 CSKA OT win. Alexander Radulov had a goal and an assist while Igor Radulov had a pair of assists in the win. CSKA MOSCOW LEADS 2-0.
GAME THREE: As the series shifted the Prague, the two team played a little tighter in the opening of the game as neither team gave an inch. Lev Prague would open the scoring just 46 seconds in, and it appeared the home team was off to the races. CSKA would pull even, however, as Igor Ozhiganov notched a powerplay marker at 8:12. Just 39 seconds after that, CSKA had the lead with Patrick Davis' first playoff goal and would carry the lead into the intermission. Nikolai Prokhorkin would score at 12:14 of the third period to put CSKA up 3-1, and Rastislav Stana would close the game out from there. CSKA MOSCOW LEADS 3-0.
GAME FOUR: With the scent of elimination in the air, one would expect Lev Prague to play with a sense of desperation considering they were averaging just one goal per game. Igor Radulov, though, would open the scoring 1:20 before the first period ended to put CSKA up 1-0. Sergei Shirokov would make it a two-goal lead 1:13 into the second period, and things were not looking good for Lev Prague at that point. But 4:08 later, Mikko Maenpaa would cut the deficit to one goal as he notched a powerplay goal. Rastislav Stana would play some outstanding netminding for the remainder of the game, though, and the 2-1 lead would hold up as the final score. CSKA MOSCOW WINS 4-0.
Dynamo Moscow finished behind SKA Saint Petersburg in the Bobrov Division with 101 points, earning them the third seed despite being the second-best team in the Western Conference. Slovan Bratislava finished the season with 78 points for sixth-place in the West.
GAME ONE: Moscow was a great team all season long, and they established themselves early in this game with two first-period goals. Michal Vondrka cut the deficit in half for Slovan wit his powerplay goal at 6:39 of the second period, but three more Minsk goals in the final thirty minutes of play allowed Dynamo Moscow to skate to the 5-1 win. Jakub Petruzhalek lead the way for Moscow as he had two goals and an assist. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 1-0.
GAME TWO: Dynamo Moscow looked to build on their success in Game One, and Jakub Petruzhalek staked them to a 1-0 lead just 1:14 into the game. The score would remain at that mark until 5:56 of the second period when Mario Bliznak would pull Slovan Bratislava even with a shorthanded goal. Special teams would put Slovan up 2-1 as Roman Kukumberg would score at 10:20. However, Moscow would respond 2:30 later as Alexei Sopin knotted the game at 2-2. Both goaltenders would hold their ground through to the end of regulations time, sending this game to overtime. 11:46 into the extra frame saw Alexei Sopin score his second goal of the game to give Moscow the 3-2 OT victory. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 2-0.
GAME THREE: As the series shifted to Bratislava, Slovakia, the Slovan fans were looking for their team to rebound from a pair of losses. Mario Bliznak would put the home team up on the powerplay just 2:59 in, and Slovan was looking good. Milan Kyntar would make it a two-goal lead for Slovan just 2:56 into the second period. However, Alexei Sopin would respond 52 seconds later to make it 2-1. And 2:02 later, Marek Kvapil would make it an even 2-2 game with a powerplay goal. With the momentum shifting, Moscow continued to press and were rewarded when Dominik Granak made it 3-2 at 15:16 of the second. And Moscow would go up by a pair just 3:17 later when Jakub Petruzhalek potted his fourth of the playoffs. I expected more goals in the third period as the two teams traded punches, but both goalies shored up their play as the game closed with a 4-2 Dynamo Moscow win. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 3-0.
GAME FOUR: Moscow once again used their momentum from the previous game to continue on their winning ways. Jakub Petruzhalek, Sergei Konkov, and Janne Jalasvaara staked Minsk to a 3-0 lead through the opening thirty minutes of the game. It looked grim for Slovan, but Ivan Svarny made it 3-1 just 2:25 into the third period. 3:59 later, it was 3-2 as Vladimir Mihalik potted his first, setting up an exciting ending to this game. Despite their desperate play, Slovan was unable to will another goal past Alexander Yeryomenko, giving Moscow the 3-2 win. DYNAMO MOSCOW WINS 4-0.
It was a dramatic return to the league for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl after the tragic plane crash wiped out their team, and they qualified for the playoffs in their first season back in the KHL as they qualified as the fourth-seed with 92 points. Severstal Cherepovets qualified for as the fifth-seeded team with 86 points.
GAME ONE: It was an emotional opening for the playoffs in Yaroslavl as Alexei Kalyuzhny got Lokomotiv out to an early 1-0 lead with his goal just 1:26 into the game. The score would remain 1-0 until 6:22 of the second period when Severstal's Gennady Stolyarov slipped a puck past Curtis Sanford to make it 1-1. It would take nearly thirty minutes for the winning goal to be scored, but Vadim Shipachyov would give Severstal Cherepovets a 2-1 lead with 5:40 remaining in the game. Vasily Koshechkin would hold the fort through the final five minutes to give Sevestal the 2-1 win. SEVERSTAL CHEREPOVETS LEADS 1-0.
GAME TWO: Lokomotiv was looking to bounce back after the opening game loss, and they jumped out to the first period lead again when Daniil Apalkov scored at 12:02. That score would hold through the remainder of the first period and most of the second until Alexander Ryazantsev's powerplay marker at 18:41 of the middle frame pulled Severstal even. Special teams would factor into the win as Staffan Kronwall's powerplay goal at 1:01 of the third period would prove to be the game-winner as Curtis Sanford shut down all of Severstal's chances in the third for the 2-1 Lokomotiv win. SERIES TIED AT 1-1.
GAME THREE: The series would shift to Cherepovets, Vologda Oblast for Game Three, and the visitors would jump out to a 1-0 lead on Staffan Kronwall's goal at 10:32. The game would go into the second period at the same score, but Severstal's Mikhail Anisin evened the score at 4:25. Lokomotiv would jump out in front again at 12:22 on Sergei Plotnikov's first playoff goal, and this score would carry into the third period. At 10:38, Stanislav Yegorshev scored the equalizer for Severstal, and it looked like we may have overtime on our hands. However, Nikita Alexeyev scored with 33 seconds remaining to give Severstal the 3-2 win and the series lead. SEVERSTAL CHEREPOVETS LEADS 2-1.
GAME FOUR: Game Four looked like it may be different as both teams came out with defence on their minds, but Alexei Medvedev opened the scoring for Severstal at 13:42. 1:15 later, the score was tied once again as Lokomotiv's Alexander Chernikov found the back of the net. On the powerplay, Lokomotiv scored again as Alexander Guskov's powerplay goal with 1:05 sent Lokomotiv to the dressing room with the 2-1 lead. 9:32 into the second period, Mikhail Anisin pulled Severstal even with his second goal in the playoffs, and we wouldn't see another goal for almost 90 minutes! In the third overtime period, Denis Kazionov finally solved Curtis Sanford on Severstal's 83rd shot of the game for the 3-2 triple-overtime win! SEVERSTAL CHEREPOVETS LEADS 3-1.
GAME FIVE: Lokomotiv returned home with their backs against the wall and needing to win to continue to play. The first goal would come early in the second period as Lokomotiv's Mikelis Redlihs struck at 2:14. Severstal would respond 7:10 later when Mikhail Anisin scored his third goal of the series. However, a powerplay goal by Alexei Kalyuzhny 3:28 later put Lokomotiv back up 2-1 which they carried into the third period. In the final frame, Mikhail Anisin scored his second of the game on the powerplay with 5:09 to play to even the score at 2-2. However, a late penalty to Bogdan Kiselevich for throwing the puck allowed a Staffan Kronwall powerplay goal at 17:34 to give Lokomotiv a 3-2 lead which they wouldn't relinquish. SEVERSTAL CHEREPOVETS LEADS 3-2.
GAME SIX: It was another do-or-die game for Lokomotiv as the series shifted back to Cherepovets. Severstal got the jump on Lokomotiv as Alexander Fedoseyev notched his first playoff goal just 8:32 into the game. Lokomotiv would pull even midway through the second period as Alexander Guskov scored a powerplay goal 9:20 into the period. The score would remained tied until 8:32 into the third period when Staffan Kronwall hauled down Evgeny Ketov on a shorthanded breakaway, giving Ketov a penalty shot. Ketov showed forehand before sliding the puck to his backhand as Sanford bit on the initial move, and Ketov had Severstal up 2-1 with his penalty shot goal. And just 58 seconds later, the Severstal captain strikes again with the backhand as his shot gets past Sanford to put Severstal up 3-1. Vasily Koshechkin allowed no other goals, and Severstal skated to the 3-1 victory. SEVERSTAL CHEREPOVETS WINS 4-2.
In the Western Conference Semi-Finals, the teams would be reshuffled so that top-seeded SKA Saint Petersburg would meet fifth-seeded Severstal Cherepovets while second-seeded CSKA Moscow would meet third-seeded Dinamo Minsk. These series are happening right now, and I'll update the Western Conference Semi-Finals next week.
Tomorrow, we look at the KHL's Eastern Conference in the opening round of the Gagarin Cup Playoffs!
Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!