#1 Metallurg Magnitogorsk vs. #8 Admiral Vladivostok
These two teams finished 30 points apart in the Eastern Conference standings in the regular season, so there should be no doubt as to who was the favorite coming into the series. Metallurg only had the top-three scorers this season, the third-highest scoring defenceman, the top goal-scorer, and the third-best goaltender for save percentage and the top netminder for shutouts. Needless to say, the deck was stacked against Admiral coming in against the Kharlamov Division champions.
GAME ONE: Admiral looked like the better team early on as they sent a flurry of shots in on Metallurg netminder Vasily Koshechkin, breaking his shutout just 2:49 into the game on a Alexei Ugarov powerplay goal. But a Jan Kovar powerplay goal at 10:56 was the beginning of the end for Admiral. Danis Zaripov scored 3:47 after that, and Jan Kovar added his second goal with 1:44 to play in the first period as Metallurg would skate to a 3-1 lead after the first period. The two teams would play out the final forty minutes at that score as Metallurg took Game One 3-1. METALLURG MAGNITOGORSK LEADS 1-0.
GAME TWO: Magnitogorsk came out strong in this game, finding the back of the net behind Admiral goaltender Evgeny Ivannikov just 2:32 into the game on a Viktor Antipin powerplay shot. Admiral would even the game just 54 seconds into the second period as former Atlanta Thrasher Niclas Bergfors scored his first of the playoffs. Yaroslav Kosov would restore the one-goal lead just 1:47 later to put Metallurg up 2-1. Just 1:11 later, Tim Brent made it 3-1 for Metallurg at the 2:52 mark of the second period. Admiral would cut the deficit to one goal at 8:31 with Dmitry Vorobyov's powerplay marker. However, Francis Pare would make it a 4-2 game at 12:49 for Metallurg. At 14:42, Admiral's Evgeny Grachyov notched his first playoff goal to make it a 4-3 game through two periods. In the final frame, Chris Lee scored 3:33 in, and Metallurg would skate to the 5-3 victory. METALLURG MAGNITOGORSK LEADS 2-0.
GAME THREE: This game started with another early goal as Admiral's Felix Schultz put the home side up 1-0. At 8:11, Danis Zaripov's second goal of the postseason evened the score on the powerplay. 54 seconds into the second period, Ilya Zubov put Admiral back up by one goal on the powerplay. Magnitogorsk responded at the 4:03 mark as Mikhail Yunkov found some room behind Ivannikov. Felix Schultz would strike again at 12:32 to put Admiral up 3-2. Metallurg's Chris Lee's slapshot found a hole through Ivannikov at 11:51 of the third period, and we'd need overtime to finish this one. The first period brought nothing in terms of goals, but we found a winner at 5:04 when Admiral's Ilya Zubov scored his second goal of the game to give Admiral the 4-3 double-overtime victory! METALLURG MAGNITOGORSK LEADS 2-1.
GAME FOUR: In a change of pace, Francis Pare decided to wait until the end of the first period to open the scoring. His second of the playoffs at 19:55 put Metallurg up 1-0. At 4:25 into the second period, former NHLers Mike Commodore notched his first goal for Admiral to even the score. Ilya Zubov would make it a 2-1 Admiral lead with his third of the playoffs at the 14:14 mark of the second period, and it looked good for the home team with just 20 minutes to play. However, Jan Kovar spoiled the celebration as his third of the playoffs at 18:21 of the third period would push this game into overtime once more. It took three overtime periods to find a winner, and Danis Zaripov's shot off a Jan Kovar pass at 16:35 of the third overtime period ended this marathon with a 3-2 win for Metallurg. METALLURG MAGNITOGORSK LEADS 3-1.
GAME FIVE: With Admiral facing elimination on the road, they got off to an unappealing start. Danis Zaripov's fourth goal 5:57 into the game put Metallurg up 1-0 on the powerplay. They would double their lead at 14:07 when Jan Kovar notched his fourth goal of the playoffs to put Metallurg up 2-0. However, Admiral got one back on the powerplay just 1:13 into the second period as Igor Bortnikov potted his first goal. The powerplay unit would strike again for Admiral at 18:02 when Alexei Ugarov notched his second goal of the postseason to make it a 2-2 game. Metallurg would jump ahead once more at 5:45 of the third when Jan Kovar picked up his fifth goal of the playoffs. But Admiral would not go quietly as Justin Hodgman's first of the playoffs on the powerplay with 3:13 to play would mean we'd have our third-straight overtime game! This one wouldn't go long, though. Sergei Mozyakin goes shelf past Evgeny Ivannikov just 3:15 into the extra period to give Metallurg the 4-3 win in the game, and the 4-1 series win! METALLURG MAGNITOGORSK WINS 4-1.
#2 Barys Astana vs. #7 Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg
Barys Astana, also known as "Little Winnipeg" to listeners of The Hockey Show, came in eight points better than Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, but were named as the second-seeded team in the East thanks to them winning the Chernyshev Division. While these teams were closer in the standings, the level of talent each team possesses actually creates quite a chasm between them. Could Avtomobilist make up that difference in talent?
GAME ONE: Avtomobilist and Barys battled through a scoreless first period, but Avtomobilist opened the scoring just 35 seconds into the second period as Artyom Chernov found room past Barys goaltender Ari Ahonen for the 1-0 lead. Roman Starchenko brought the teams back to even at the 4:00 with his shot on the powerplay that beat Avtomobilist netminder Jakub Kovar. Starchenko would strike again at the 4:03 mark into the third period to put Astana up 2-1. However, former NHLer Sami Lepisto would make it a 2-2 game just 2:20 later on the powerplay. Neither team could solve the stalemate in regulation, so we're off to overtime! It took two extra periods, but just 42 seconds into the second overtime period, we got the winner unassisted off the stick of Roman Savchenko as he fired a long wrist shot into the net that eluded Kovar! BARYS ASTANA LEADS 1-0.
Just as an aside, goaltender Ari Ahonen was injured in this game, and he would not play in any of the remaining games in this series. This could be a problem for Barys Astana going forward if their number-one netminder is out for an extended period of time.
GAME TWO: Lots of goals in this game. Mikhail Rahkmanov scored 5:34 into the game to put Astana up 1-0. Avtomobilist's Andre Deveaux made it a 1-1 game at the 11:29 mark. Roman Starchenko's third goal of the playoffs at the 5:38 mark of the second period put Barys back up 2-1. Artyom Chernov's second goal of the playoffs at 10:09 evened the score up once more. At the 14:12 mark, Fyodor Malykhin's powerplay goal for Avtomobilist put the visitors up 3-2, but Roman Starchenko would make it a 3-3 game at the 19:37 mark to send the game into the dressing rooms knotted up. Former NHLer Brandon Bochenski would put Astana up 4-3 just 6:47 into the third period, but Dmitry Megalinsky's powerplay goal with 3:59 to play would send this game to overtime! It looked like this game was over early as Astana's Talgat Zhailauov chipped in a cross-ice pass, but it was ruled the net had become dislodged before the puck crossed the line as Zhailauov and a defender crashed into the post. However, with Avtomobilist's Nikita Tryamkin serving a penalty for high-sticking, former NHLer and current Astana defenceman Mike Lundin ended the game with his shot off a rebound in the slot at 17:39 in the extra frame to give Astana the 5-4 win! BARYS ASTANA LEADS 2-0.
GAME THREE: Artyom Chernov opened the scoring with his third goal of the playoffs at 6:59 of the first period for Avtomobilist, and they would hold that lead into the second period. Barys' Konstantin Romanov drew the visitors even with his first of the playoffs at the 3:31 mark of the second period. The game would remain tied at 1-1 until late into the third period. Astana's Konstantin Rudenko scored his first of the playoffs with 3:48 to play to put Astana up 2-1, and Vitaly Yeremeyev would hold the fort the rest of the way to give "Little Winnipeg" the 2-1 victory. BARYS ASTANA LEADS 3-0.
GAME FOUR: All the scoring in Game Four came in the middle frame, so there would be no late heroics for either team in this game. Roman Savchenko opened the scoring for Astana with his second goal of the playoffs at 2:28. Konstantin Romanov would make it a 2-0 lead with his second goal of the playoffs at the 8:06 mark. Avtomobilist would the deficit in half as Fyodor Malykhin found the twine on the powerplay for his second goal of the playoffs at 14:01. But as stated above, there would be no other goals as Barys Astana skated to the 2-1 win and the 4-0 series sweep! BARYS ASTANA WINS 4-0.
In a rather bizarre scene, Barys Astana forward Talgat Zhailauov, who set up Romanov's goal to clinch the series, may be out for some time thanks to Astana's fans. Upon returning home after their first playoff series win in franchise history, Zhailauov was tossed in the air by fans who greeted the team in the airport. Watch below as they accidentally drop Zhailauov on his head!
Reportedly, Zhailauov suffered a concussion in the celebration. How ridiculous is that? I've never seen fans of a team do anything like that to their own team. Crazy! Only in Russia, right?
#3 Ak Bars Kazan vs. #6 Sibir Novosibirsk
Ak Bars Kazan, who finished with more points that second-seeded Barys Astana, is an interesting team. They finished the season with 100 points and were 13 points better than Sibir Novosibirsk, but they always seemed to play soft, especially down the stretch. Maybe it's just my perspective, but when your team is led by Alexander Burmistrov and Tim Stapleton, you might be ripe for the upset.
GAME ONE: Ak Bars Kazan, as the home team, got the fans into the game in the first period as Mikhail Varnakov beat Sibir goaltender Mikko Koskinen to put Kazan up 1-0 just 8:28 into the game. Sibir would even the score early in the second period as Jarno Koskiranta's shot found its way past goaltender Konstantin Barulin, and the game was tied 1:27 into the middle frame. Igor Ozhiganov would make it a 2-1 game for Sibir at 8:18 of the second period, and they would go up by two goals when Oleg Gubin scored with 3:28 to play in the period. Both teams skated to a scoreless third period, giving Sibir Novosibirsk the 3-1 victory and an early series lead. SIBIR NOVOSIBIRSK LEADS 1-0.
GAME TWO: After being shocked in Game One, Kazan had to rally. Unfortunately, it didn't start well. Just 15 seconds into the game, Dmitry Monya put Sibir up 1-0. It would take nearly two periods for the next goal, but Dmitry Kugryshev put pressure on Kazan with his powerplay goal at 19:07 of the second period, putting Sibir up 2-0 in the game. However, Alexander Osipov scored for Kazan on the powerplay at he 4:17 mark to cut the deficit to one goal, and then Mikhail Varnakov's second goal of the playoffs with 58 seconds to play would send this game to overtime! We would see a winner crowned at 7:25 as Alexander Osipov notched his second of the game on a Janne Pesonen rebound! Ak Bars Kazan would escape with the 3-2 overtime victory to square up the series! SERIES TIED AT 1-1.
GAME THREE: Sibir returned to the friendly confines of the Ice Sports Palace Sibir for Game Three and put on a show! Jonas Enlund had a pair of powerplay goals in the first period at 12:46 and 17:17, respectively, to pace Sibir to the 2-0 lead after twenty minutes. Enlund capped off the natural hat trick 5:48 into the second period to make it 3-0 for the home side. Dmitry Monya made it 4-0 at 8:11 which chased starting Ak Bars goalie Konstantin Barulin for backup Emil Garipov. Igor Ignatushkin made it 5-0 at 11:36, and Alexei Kopeikin made it 6-0 at 19:51. The third period saw Kazan's Mikhail Varnakov snap Mikko Koskinen's shutout 5:08 into the period, but Sibir put the finishing touches on the blowout with Oleg Gubin's powerplay goal at 9:22. When the dust settled, Sibir skated to the 7-1 win in Game Three. SIBIR NOVOSIBIRSK LEADS 2-1.
GAME FOUR: After having their pride beaten up by Sibir, Ak Bars Kazan came to play in Game Four. Ilya Nikulin opened the scoring 40 seconds into the second period to put Kazan up 1-0. At 7:51, Mikhail Varnakov scored another powerplay goal - his fourth goal of the playoffs - to five Kazan a 2-0 lead, chasing Mikko Koskinen from the nets in favor of backup Nikita Bespelov, but he didn't do much better. Janne Pesonen made it a three-goal game when he notched his first of the playoffs on the powerplay at 13:58. The home side would get one back before the second period horn sounded as Jarno Koskiranta scored his second goal of the playoffs at 19:05. The third period would start the same way as the second period did. Nikolai Belov scored 4:56 into the period to make it a 4-1 game for Kazan, and Shaun Heshka's blast from the point on the powerplay just 33 seconds later made it a 5-1 Kazan advantage. Kirill Petrov made it 6-1 at 9-1, but Jonas Enlund made it 6-2 just ten seconds later. Cue the comeback? Not quite, but Sibir did get one more goal at the 17:46 mark when Ivan Lekomtsev scored on the powerplay. Chalk this one up as a 6-3 Ak Bars Kazan victory. SERIES TIED AT 2-2.
GAME FIVE: With this series now a best-of-three, Kazan had an opportunity to put some pressure on Sibir. They had two of the next three games at home, and they were coming off that 6-3 win in Game Four. This game, though, was oddly different that the first four games, though, as Kazan and Sibir went into defensive mode! They went scoreless through the first and second periods! It wasn't until 8:06 of the third period when we would see the first goal. Sibir's Oleg Gubin, who seems to have a knack forbig third-period goals, potted his third of the playoffs past Emil Garipov as the only goal of the game! Mikko Koskinen put up a wall I stopping all 29 Ak Bars Kazan shots as Sibir escaped with a 1-0 victory! SIBIR NOVOSIBIRSK LEADS 3-2.
GAME SIX: It was back to Siberia for Game Six as Sibir Novosibirsk looked for the upset! Ak Bars Kazan would need a win to prevent this from being their first first-round exit in KHL history. Both teams came out defensively through the first thirty minutes, but Ak Bars Kazan would eventually break through as Evgeny Medvedev would score his first playoff goal at 11:56. Kazan would double its lead 3:32 later when Alexander Svitov scored his first goal of the playoffs past Koskinen for the 2-0 lead. With the home team down to start the third period, Sibir was given new life just 2:08 into the final stanza. Dmitry Kugryshev scored his second goal of the playoffs to cut the lead to 2-1. And Sibir would tie the game just 2:33 later when Alexander Kutuzov notched his first goal of the playoffs! When the final horn in regulation time sounded, these teams hadn't broken the deadlock, so we were off to overtime! It took two overtime periods for a hero to emerge, but we got one at 5:34 of the second overtime period. Stepan Sannikov of Sibir Novosibirsk poked him a loose puck in a furious goalmouth scramble, and the Siberian team pulled off the upset with a 3-2 double-overtime win for the 4-2 series win! SIBIR NOVOSIBIRSK WINS 4-2.
#4 Salavat Yulaev Ufa vs. #5 Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
Torpedo and Ufa finished the season with 94 points each. Of all the first-round matchups in the Eastern Conference, this is the one that I could see going seven games. Both teams are evenly-matched, and there are former NHL players on both sides. Without further ado, let's see how this series played out.
GAME ONE: Torpedo would open the scoring in the series 14:58 into the first period of Game One when Alexei Badyukov scored past Ufa's Andrei Vasilevsky for the 1-0 lead. Torpedo would double the lead in the second period when Mikhail Grigoryev scored on the powerplay at 8:18. Ufa would cut the lead to one goal at 16:01 when Igor Mirnov's shot found the back of the Torpedo net past Ivan Kasutin. However, Evgeny Skachkov would restore the two-goal lead at 10:33of the third period with his third point of the night to help Torpedo take Game One by a 3-1 score. TORPEDO NIZHNY NOVGOROD LEADS 1-0.
GAME TWO: Both teams went into lockdown mode in this game as there were few legitimate chances to score. Ufa did get a number of shots on Kasutin, but there weren't many big scoring chances of which to speak. In saying that, the game's only goal came off the stick Krystofer Kolanos at the 4:12 mark of the second period. Vasilevsky stopped all of the other 17 shots he saw, but Kasutin was perfect on all 34 shots he faced as Kolanos' second period marker would be all that Torpedo needed for the 1-0 win! TORPEDO NIZHNY NOVGOROD LEADS 2-0.
GAME THREE: The pressure was on Ufa as they went on the road down two games, so they had to be good. They got another solid defensive outing in Game Three, so they had a chance. Igor Mirnov notched his second goal of the playoffs late in the first period at 19:21 to put Ufa up 1-0. Torpedo's Mikhail Grigoryev scored his second goal of the playoffs at the 4:00 mark of the third period to tie the game 1-1 after the two teams traded chances in the second. Neither could break the stalemate in regulation time, so it was off to overtime! With no scoring through the first overtime period, they started a second. With no scoring in the second overtime period, they started a third. At the 13:24 mark, a seemingly harmless shot from Alexander Stepanov catches Ivan Kasutin off the top of the mask and goes high into the air. Kasutin had no idea where it was, and Roman Konkov couldn't swat it out of the air as the puck landed in the net! With the fluky goal, Ufa takes Game Three by a 2-1 score in triple-overtime! TORPEDO NIZHNY NOVGOROD LEADS 2-1.
GAME FOUR: Ufa looked to ride the momentum off the triple-overtime victory into Game Four, but the two teams played cautiously throughout the first period. Torpedo's Vladimir Galuzin opened the scoring at 4:01 of the second period to put the home side up 1-0. At 15:56, Ufa pulled even on Ivan Vishnevsky's first of the playoffs on powerplay. 2:42 after that saw Igor Mirnov notch his third goal of the playoffs as Ufa jumped ahead 2-1. Ufa squeezed one more goal in before the intermissions as former Winnipeg Jet Arturs Kulda fired one past Kasutin with just 21 seconds on the clock. Torpedo's Jarkko Immonen scored with 2:09 to play in the game to make things interesting, but Yegor Dubrovsky's empty-net goal with 1:40 to play sealed the deal for Ufa in a 4-2 victory. SERIES TIED AT 2-2.
GAME FIVE: With everything knotted up at 2-2 in the series, this became a best-of-three as Ufa returned home. Yegor Dubrovsky opened the scoring for the home side with his second goal of the playoffs on the powerplay at 9:15. Former NHLer Wojtek Wolski responded for Torpedo with a powerplay goal of his own at 13:33 and the teams were tied 1-1. The powerplay barrage continued as Sakari Salminen notched a goal with the man-advantage just 16 seconds into the second period to put Torpedo up 2-1. Nikita Shchitov evened the game up at 10:23 with yet another powerplay goal for Ufa, and the two teams would head into the second intermission tied at 2-2. Seven minutes into the third period, Yegor Dubrovsky scored his second powerplay goal of the game to put Ufa up 3-2. And Ufa's Antti Pihlstrom would ice this game at the 18:19 mark when he potted his first of the playoffs. Ufa would skate to the 4-2 victory! SALAVAT YULAEV UFA LEADS 3-2.
GAME SIX: Torpedo returned home needing a win to keep this series alive, and Peter Skudra's team decided to score in bunches on this night. At 19:03, Denis Parshin scored his first goal of the playoffs for Torpedo, and that was followed up by a Jarkko Immonen powerplay goal just thirty seconds later for a 2-0 Torpedo lead! Not to be outdone, Dmitry Makarov scored a goal with one second remaining in the first to pull Ufa back within one at 2-1. Yegor Dubrovsky hit the scoresheet at the 13:03 mark with a powerplay goal to make it 2-2 as the teams went into the second intermission tied. At 7:54 of the third period, Vladimir Galuzin score. At 8:25, Sakari Salminen scores. It's now 4-2 for Torpedo. Salminen then strikes on the powerplay at 11:06 to make it 5-2. And Jarkko Immonen rounded out the scoring on this night, adding another powerplay goal at 16:47 for Torpedo's 6-2 victory. SERIES TIED AT 3-3.
GAME SEVEN: It was do-or-die night in Ufa, and only one team would emerge to move onto the second round of the Gagarin Cup Playoffs. Ufa got on the board first at 2:34 of the second period when Igor Mirnov's fourth goal of the playoffs found the back of the net with the man-advantage. Exactly five minutes after that goal, Ufa's Sergei Zinovyev chipped in his own powerplay goal to make it a 2-0 advantage for the home side. Torpedo would cut the lead to one goal before the end of the second period as Sergei Bernatsky found the twine at the 17:31 mark. From that point on, the goaltenders would not allow another goal. Salavat Yulaev Ufa would hold onto the 2-1 score through sixty minutes, winning the series over Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. SALAVAT YULAEV UFA WINS 4-3.
So there are the winners of the first-round match-ups in the KHL's Gagarin Cup Playoffs. The teams will remain in their seeded positions and be shuffled accordingly. Because of this, Metallurg Magnitogorsk will host Sibir Novosibirsk in one semi-final while Barys Astana hosts Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the other semi-final. I'm still cheering for "Little Winnipeg", so my money's on Barys Astana from the East!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!