The Western Conference Final in the KHL's Gagarin Cup Playoffs came down to the top two teams in the Western Conference in terms of points. SKA Saint Petersburg and Dynamo Moscow met in their seven-game series to determine who would be the Western Conference Champions in the Gagarin Cup Final. Both teams came into the final with similar 8-1 records in the playoffs, so this series looked like it would be very close.
SKA Saint Petersburg got major contributions from Viktor Tikhonov up front, and Kevin Dallman was leading the team from the blue line. Saint Petersburg was getting great goaltending from their tandem of Ilya Ezhov and Ivan Kasutin in leading them past Atlant Moscow Oblast and Severstal Cherepovets. Dynamo Moscow was led up front by Jakub Petruzalek while Dominik Granak was leading Dynamo from the blue line. Alexander Yeryomenko has been lights-out in backstopping the team through their fist nine playoff games in eliminating Slovan Bratislava and CSKA Moscow.
GAME ONE: If these two teams were going to play it safe, that thought went out of the window just 45 seconds into Game One. Janne Jalasvaara potted his third goal of the playoffs to put Dynamo Moscow up early. Dynamo would strike again with just 46 seconds left in the first period as Dominik Granak put Dynamo Moscow up by a pair. It took nearly a full period to see another goal, but Dynamo made it a three-goal margin when Konstantin Kasyanchuk scored his first playoff goal at the 17:51. Things looked bleak for Saint Petersburg, but they broke the goose egg with 4:49 remaining when Alexander Kucheryavenko finally found a hole through Alexander Yeryomenko to make it 3-1. However, things got a little more tense when Viktor Tikhonov scored with 50 seconds left, but it was too little and too late as Dynamo Moscow took Game One by a 3-2 score. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 1-0.
GAME TWO: A signature of Dynamo Moscow's success in the playoffs has been scoring early and scoring often. Game Two followed that modus operandi as Dynamo struck first again. Konstantin Kasyanchuk opened the scoring at 7:24, and Denis Mosalev made it 2-0 at 11:36. Saint Petersburg's Andrei Pervyshin cut the deficit in half at 15:21, but Alexei Sopin restored the two-goal lead at 18:47 and would end Ivan Kasutin's night in the Saint Petersburg net. Viktor Tikhonov scored a powerplay goal at 10:03 of the second period to make it a 3-2 game, but Marek Kvapil restored the two-goal lead yet again with his goal just 2:19 later. Yeryomenko and Ilya Ezhov would match each other save-for-save through the rest of the game, and would lead to the 4-2 win for Dynamo. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 2-0.
GAME THREE: With the series shifting to Moscow, Dynamo was clearly in the driver's seat after having taken both games on the road. Game Three would prove crucial to Saint Petersburg's fate, and they played much better defensively through the first period. Saint Petersburg would open the scoring at 8:02 of the second period when Viktor Tikhonov notched his ninth goal of the postseason for the 1-0 lead. Sensing a need for goals, Saint Petersburg doubled the lead at the 13:50 mark when Tony Martensson put home his fifth of the playoffs. The two-goal lead would carry through the intermission, and things were looking good. That is, they were looking good until 16 seconds into the third period when Dominik Granak pulled Dynamo within a goal. With the crowd buzzing, the momentum began to swing in favor of Dynamo and it resulted in Alexei Tsvetkov's second goal of the playoffs at 8:39 to tie the game 2-2. The fans would blow the roof off the Luzhniki Arena when Konstantin Kasyanchuk beat Ilya Ezhov with seven seconds in the game! Dynamo would ice the game with a second left when Yury Babenko scored into the empty net, but the game was already over at that point as Dynamo Moscow wins Game Three by a 4-2 score. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 3-0.
GAME FOUR: With their backs against the wall, SKA Saint Petersburg needed a big game to shift momemtum in this series. Dynamo looked to sweep the Western Conference's best team at home and advance to the Gagarin Cup Final. Marek Kvapil gave the home team the 1-0 lead 13:19 into the game, and things looked good. Dynamo doubled their lead 3:47 into the second period when Alexei Tsvetkov's shot on the powerplay found the back of the net. But something changed at the midway point after Dynamo was whistled for too many men. Kevin Dallman scored on the powerplay at 12:25 to pull Saint Petersburg within one goal, and Mikhail Varnakov evened the game at 2-2 just 2:02 later. Evgeny Artyukhin put the visitors up 3-2 with 2:35 left in the second period, and Dynamo left the ice at the intermission looking a little shaken. The third period was all Saint Petersburg as Kevin Dallman scored at 5:09, Dmitry Vorobyov scored at 6:33, and Teemu Ramstedt closed out the game with an empty-net goal at 19:49. SKA Saint Petersburg lived to see another day with a 6-2 victory. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 3-1.
GAME FIVE: SKA Saint Petersburg needed another big game, this time on home ice, to keep the series going. Dynamo, after collapsing in the last game, was looking to rebound to close the series out. It would take 48:34 to see a goal scored in this game as both teams limited chances and kept shots to the perimeter, but Alexei Tsvetkov put Dynamo up 1-0 at the 8:34 mark of the third period. Viktor Tikhonov's powerplay goal at 12:52, however, would square the two teams once again as they went back into their defensive shells. There wouldn't be another goal scored for over 45 minutes as the two teams battled, but Saint Petersburg's Tony Martensson would finally break the deadlock with his sixth goal of the playoffs at 18:02 of double-overtime to end the game, giving Saint Petersburg the 2-1 OT victory. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 3-2.
GAME SIX: SKA Saint Petersburg dug deep in finding ways to win in their last two games, so it was back to hostile ice in Moscow to try and force a seventh game. If Dynamo loses this game, this could be one of the most memorable collapses in hockey history with Game Seven scheduled in Saint Petersburg. It took 25 minutes to see the game's first goal as Dynamo's Marek Kvapil scored his fourth goal at 5:04 of the second period. 2:58 later, Kvapil had his fifth playoff goal to put Dynamo Moscow up 2-0. Evgeny Artyukhin would cut the deficit in half with his goal at the 14:13 mark, but Dynamo Moscow would go back up by a pair when Ilya Gorokhov notched his first goal of the playoffs at 16:39. Saint Petersburg needed to come up big in the final frame, but Marek Kvapil completed his hat trick at the 8:32 mark to put Dynamo Moscow up 4-1, and Sergei Konkov scored his fourth goal with 4:50 remaining. Alexander Yeryomenko would hold the fort the rest of the way, and Dynamo Moscow closed out the series with the 5-1 win on home ice. DYNAMO MOSCOW WINS 4-2.
Dynamo Moscow will play the winner of the Eastern Conference Final in the Gagarin Cup Final that begins tomorrow. Dynamo Moscow won the Gagarin Cup last season over Avangard Omsk, and they'll be looking to tie Ak Bars Kazan in terms of total KHL Championships with a win in the final. They'll be difficult to beat considering how well they've played early in games and how well their defence has been playing. They're now 12-3 in the playoffs, so it will take a big effort from either Traktor Chelyabinsk or Ak Bars Kazan to knock off Dynamo Moscow. We'll find out which team gets the opportunity to compete as the Eastern Conference Champions tomorrow!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!