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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Gagarin Cup Playoffs - West

I recapped all the action from the Eastern Conference last night, so tonight we'll focus on the Western Conference as the KHL's Gagarin Cup Playoffs continue. While I'm always looking for an upset, there were some tough series on this side of the tournament for the lower seeds. That being said, games are played for a reason, so let's find out who did what in the Western Conference! Would Dynamo Moscow continue on their trek for a three-peat? How would Iya Kovalchuk and SKA St. Petersburg fare? These questions and more are answered here! And, of course, all overtime goals will be featured!

#1 Dynamo Moscow vs. #8 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

In 2011, the Lokomotiv team suffered one of sports' worst tragedies of all-time when the plane carrying the team crashed. Lokomotiv has been rebuilding to re-establish itself, and it finally made it back to the Gagarin Cup Playoffs only to run into the two-time defending Gagarin Cup champions. While the odds were stacked against them, could they overcome Dynamo in a seven-game battle? In the regular season, Dynamo Moscow finished 31 points ahead of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl - yikes!

GAME ONE: The hometown Dynamo fans were certainly expecting their team to take it to the visitors, but it was Lokomotiv who came out jumping. Just 4:29 into the game, Mikelis Redlihs' shot found some room past Moscow goalie Alexander Yeryomenko, and Yaroslavl had the early 1-0 lead. Lokomotiv would make it a 2-0 game at 14:22 when Sergei Plotnikov ripped a shot past Yeryomenko, silencing the crowd. There wouldn't be much to cheer about for another 35 minutes, but Dynamo finally broke the goose egg when Alexander Ryazantsev beat Lokomotiv goalie Curtis Sanford at 9:44 of the third period to make it a 2-1 game. 1:01 later, Leo Komarov snapped a shot past Sanford, and we were suddenly knotted up at 2-2! These teams couldn't solve their differences in regulation time, so it was off to overtime! Just 1:31 into the extra frame, Maxim Karpov cruised down the right wing into the Lokomotiv zone where he fired a wrist shot high on Sanford from the top of the right circle that somehow got past Sanford! With the goal, Karpov and Dynamo capture the 3-2 overtime win! DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 1-0.

GAME TWO: Dynamo looked to build on the momentum generated by their overtime win in Game One. Dynamo's Maxim Solovyov notches his first goal of the playoffs at 15:10, and then he adds another in the middle frame at 4:49 to make it 2-0 Moscow. Alexander Chernikov made it 2-1 13:44 into the third period, but Yeryomenko held strong the rest of the way as Dynamo Moscow takes both home games as the series shifts to Yaroslavl. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 2-0.

GAME THREE: Lokomotiv came home looking to rally against the deficit they found themselves in, and they started the right way. Geoff Platt's slapshot from the point on the powerplay got past Yeryomenko at the 8:26 mark of the first period, and the home team was up 1-0. This next picture may interest Toronto Maple Leaf fans:
Yes, that's Leo Komarov scoring on a penalty shot in the third period to even the score at 1-1. But just 3:15 later, Yuri Petrov put Lokomotiv up 2-1 on his first goal of the playoffs. From there, it was all Curtis Sanford as he shut down the Moscow offence for the final thirteen minutes to cut the series deficit in half! DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 2-1.

GAME FOUR: Dynamo and Lokomotiv came out a little more defensively in Game Four as neither team could solve the other through the opening twenty minutes. Moscow would strike early as Maxim Pestushko finds some room past Sanford just 21 seconds into the middle frame to put Dynamo up 1-0. Geoff Platt's powerplay goal at 6:28 brought the teams even again. Marek Kvapil wasn't satisfied with that, so he went out and scored a powerplay goal at 9:04 to put Moscow back on top by a 2-1 score. Late in the game, Staffan Kronwall ripped home a powerplay goal with 2:34 to play, and this game was headed to overtime! Nothing would be solved in the first overtime period, so we were off to double-overtime. In that fifth period, Mikelis Redlihs was battling in front of the net and corralled a loose puck that he slid home as Yeryomenko couldn't find the puck, and Lokomotiv would take Game Four in double-overtime by a 3-2 score! SERIES TIED AT 2-2.

GAME FIVE: After one double-overtime game, why not play another? The teams made their way back to Moscow where defence ruled. Through sixty minutes, all shots were turned aside meaning we were looking at overtime with a 0-0 game! In fact, we'd play eighty minutes with no goals as this game did, in fact, make it to double-overtime! Konstantin Volkov converts a pass from Yury Babenko at the hash marks past Curtis Sanford at the 3:11 mark of double-overtime, and Dynamo Moscow goes up 3-2 on their 1-0 victory! DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 3-2.

GAME SIX: Lokomotiv returned to Yaroslavl needing a win to live another day while Dynamo Moscow would love to close this series out with a win on the road. Let's just say that one of those two things happened in a big way. Lokomotiv opened the scoring late in the first period as Ilya Gorokhov netted his first goal on the powerplay at 19:46 for a 1-0 lead. Midway through the second period, Sergei Plotnikov made it 2-0 for Lokomotiv with his second goal at 10:34. At 16:47, Sergei Konkov made it 3-0 for the home team. Just 2:54 into the third period, Alexander Chernikov scored shorthanded for his second goal of the playoffs to make it 4-0, and that would be the end of the night for Yeryomenko as the Moscow goalie was replaced by backup Alexander Sharychenkov. Things didn't get better, though, as Chernikov would strike again at 8:53 on the powerplay to make it a 5-0 advantage for Yaroslavl. And Konkov would pick up his second goal of the game at 11:56 on the powerplay to put Lokomotiv up 6-0. Sanford looked very impressive on home ice as he stopped all 28 shots to record the shutout in Game Six as Lokomotiv would send this back to Moscow for Game Seven with a 6-0 win! SERIES TIED AT 3-3.

GAME SEVEN: It's the do-or-die game in Moscow as Lokomotiv and Dynamo meet for Game Seven! Unfortunately for the home side, Lokomotiv breaks the stalemate at 11:09 of the first period as Alexander Chernikov's shot finds room past Yeryomenko to put Yaroslavl up 1-0. Just 1:24 later, Geoff Platt doubles the lead as his bomb finds twine, putting Lokomotiv up 2-0. Leo Komarov's third goal at the 14:31 mark of the second period cut Lokomotiv's lead to 2-1, setting up what appeared to be an exciting finish! Except that Lokomotiv had other ideas. Sergei Konkov scored his third goal just 57 seconds into the third period to put Yaroslavl up 3-1, and then he adds another goal while on the powerplay at 15:31 to make it a 4-1 Lokomotiv lead. With the net empty, Lokomotiv ices the game as Yegor Averin deposits the puck in the yawning cage with 48 seconds to play, and Lokomotiv does the unthinkable in winning Game Seven 5-1, ousting the top-seeded team in the Western Conference, and sending the two-time defending champions home in the first round! LOKOMOTIV YAROSLAVL WINS 4-3.

#2 SKA St. Petersburg vs. #7 CSKA Moscow

These two teams usually meet in later rounds, but CSKA's inconsistent season put them in as the seventh-seed in the West, fourteen points back of SKA. Despite having a pile of talent, CSKA never could find their way this season whereas the stars for SKA helped that team climb to the second-seed. This could be an ugly series if SKA St. Petersburg imposes their will.

GAME ONE: Having spoken with CSKA forward Brandon Reid before the series started, he felt that CSKA needed to play a more "Canadian game" - checking the stars of SKA closely. This game resembled that idea put forth by Reid as the first goal of the game didn't come until midway through the third period. At the 9:47 mark, SKA's Andrei Sigaryov found a hole through CSKA goaltender Jeff Glass for the 1-0 lead. SKA goaltender Alexander Salak didn't need any extra help as he turned away all 43 CSKA shots for the shutout as Sigaryov's goal stood as the winner in the 1-0 victory. SKA ST. PETERSBURG LEADS 1-0.

GAME TWO: For all the tight checking done in the first game, CSKA needed some in this game. SKA's Viktor Tikhonov opened the scoring just 3:07 in to put St. Petersburg up 1-0, and then Yury Alexandrov added a powerplay goal at 4:50 for a 2-0 SKA lead. Things got worse in the first period for CSKA as Patrick Thoresen sniped a shot past Jeff Glass to make it 3-0 at the 18:31 mark, and Jeff Glass' night would be done at the next stoppage of play after 19:45 of ice-time. Mikhail Biryukov would take over, and he would get some help as Igor Fefelov scored 2:03 into the second period to cut the deficit to 3-1. However, former Flame Roman Cervenka would get his name on the scoresheet with a snipe at 8:31 to put SKA St. Petersburg up 4-1 heading into the third period. Kevin Dallman would blast a shot from the point past Biryukov while on the powerplay to round out the scoring as SKA skated to the 5-1 victory. SKA ST. PETERSBURG LEADS 2-0.

GAME THREE: CSKA returned home needing a win, and they got off on the right foot. Igor Grigorenko hammered home his first playoff goal on the powerplay to put CSKA up 1-0 at 17:57 of the first period. SKA would respond with their own powerplay goal as Patrick Thoresen put one home at 5:46 of the second period, and this game was knotted at 1-1. Both goaltenders would hold strong through to the end of regulation, so we were off to overtime! A very questionable slashing call was made on Oleg Saprykin at the 9:38 mark of overtime, and SKA went to work on the powerplay. Dmitry Kalinin faked a slapshot and sent a pass over to Roman Cervenka who one-timed a laser past Jeff Glass, and SKA escapes with the 2-1 overtime victory! SKA ST. PETERSBURG LEADS 3-0.

GAME FOUR: With their backs against the wall, CSKA would need to play with some desperation to keep this series going. Nikita Zaitsev put the home squad up 1-0 with his powerplay blast at 17:59 of the first period, and CSKA carried the lead into the second period. They would add to the lead at the 1:48 mark when Yakov Rylov converted a feed from Fefelov to make it a 2-0 game. Patrick Thoresen would cut the lead in half with his powerplay goal at 6:58, and SKA would tie the game up off Tony Martensson's powerplay goal at the 11:01 mark. CSKA would dig in once more, and Nikita Zaitsev scored his second of the game at 15:10 on a two-man advantage to give CSKA the same one-goal lead as they headed into the intermission. Just 5:55 into the third period, Nikolai Prokhorkin's one-timer on a two-on-one found its way past Salak to give CSKA a 4-2 lead. At 13:13, we finally saw SKA's big gun break free as Ilya Kovalchuk notched his first goal on the powerplay to make it a 4-3 goal, and SKA would tie the game minutes later as Roman Cervenka notched his third goal of the playoffs at 18:42 with the net empty as he potted a carom off the end-boards. With no goals in the remaining 1:18, we were off to overtime again! Just 3:15 in, we'd have our winner. Kovalchuk's shot squeaks through Glass' pads, and is sitting next to the goalpost. A furious scramble sees Alexei Ponikarovsky push the puck over the line with two CSKA players on top of him. Despite their protests, the goal stands, and SKA sweeps CSKA out of the playoffs. SKA ST. PETERSBURG WINS 4-0.

#3 Lev Prague vs. #6 Medvescak Zagreb

There may only have been seven points between these two teams in the regular season, but their styles of play were entirely different as Lev seemed to push the play while Medvescak played more of a defensive-style of game. It would be interesting to see if offence vs. defence would result in an upset in this series.

GAME ONE: Lev's Jiri Novotny got the crowd on their feet early as he potted the first goal of the series just 39 seconds into the game past Mark Dekanich! The lead would evaporate at the 8:56 mark, though, as Medvescak's Matt Ellison fired a puck past Petri Vehanen to even the score at 1-1. However, the home crowd would celebrate in the intermission as Justin Azevedo notched a powerplay goal at 14:28 to put Lev up 2-1 after the first period. At 8:46 of the second, Medvescak found themselves on a powerplay, and former NHLer Kurtis Foster blasted home a shot from the point to tie the game at 2-2. Petr Vrana would put Lev up by one early in the third period as he sniped a goal at the 1:46 mark. Martin Thornberg would make it a two-goal game as he scored at 4:17 of the third, but Medvescak would make things interesting as Matt Murley would score at the 16:35 mark. Vehanen would hold the fort the rest of the way as Lev takes Game One by a 4-3 score! LEV PRAGUE LEADS 1-0.

GAME TWO: Like they did in Game One, Lev opened the scoring in this game as Lukas Cingel converted on a delayed penalty call at 9:52 into the first period. The second period saw Medvescak apply serious pressure as Matt Ellison evened the game at the 5:44 mark of the second, and Bill Thomas would send Medvescak to the intermission with their first lead in the series as his shot at 17:27 got through Vehanen for a 2-1 lead. However, it seemed like the ice was slanted that night as all the scoring happened in one end. Lev responded with a Jiri Novotny powerplay goal 26 seconds into the third, a Martin Thornberg powerplay goal at 9:09, and a Patrik Zackrisson goal at 16:19 to take a 4-2 lead. With Mark Dekanich pulled late, Justin Azevedo put the puck in the unguarded cage with 11 seconds to play, icing the game with a 5-2 score. LEV PRAGUE LEADS 2-0.

GAME THREE: Medvescak needed a win to generate some momentum as they returned home. Lev had other plans, though, as they struck first for the third-straight game. Martin Thornberg potted a shorthanded goal at 12:15 of the second period to put Lev up 1-0. Michal Repik made it a 2-0 game at 15:29 when his baseball-style shot eluded Barry Brust. Boyd Kane would respond seconds later as he benefited from a bounce off his knee and the puck found the back of the net at 16:05 of the second. Minutes later, Lev's Martin Sevc hauled down Sasa Martinovic on a breakaway as he came out of the penalty box, and we got to see a penalty shot! Martinovic deked Vehanen nicely, faking a wrist shot causing Vehanen to go down before dragging the puck across the crease and firing it into the yawning cage to make it a 2-2 game. Sevc would make up for his gaffe in the third period by setting up David Ullstrom for his first goal - a long wrist shot from the point - at 9:37 of the third period. Martin Thornberg would pick up his second of the night and fourth goal of the playoffs of a nice deflection in front of Brust at 16:32 for a 4-2 Lev lead. And Petr Vrana would pick a pocket in front of Brust and fire it home on the powerplay with 58 seconds to play to give Lev the 5-2 victory. LEV PRAGUE LEADS 3-0.

GAME FOUR: If there's a theme in these games, it's that Lev scores first. And they did it again. Jakub Matai converted a gorgeous no-look, cross-crease touch pass from Lukas Cingel to put Lev up 1-0 just 5:49 into the game. Mikko Maenpaa made it 2-0 on the powerplay when he rocketed a slapshot from the circle past Mark Dekanich at 15:55. In what has to be the worst goal of the opening round, Medvescak's Alan Letang dumped the puck in from center ice, and it finds a way past Vehanen into the net at the 6:25 mark of the third period, cutting the lead to 2-1. But 1:26 later, David Ullstrom, from the same spot as the night before, counted a long wrist shot that found its way past Dekanich to give Lev a 3-1 lead. Matt Ellison would make things interesting with his goal at 15:44, but Medvescak couldn't find another goal as they fall 3-2 to Lev in the game and are swept out of the playoffs. LEV PRAGUE WINS 4-0.

#4 Donbass Donetsk vs. #5 Dinamo Riga

Donbass Donetsk finished four points ahead of Dinamo Riga in the Western Conference standings, and both teams have a few former NHL players on their rosters. Goaltending could be a factor in this series as Mikael Tellqvist is the starter for Riga while Donetsk boasts Michael Leighton as their starter. I thought this series would be interesting considering the problems in Ukraine right now, and it turns out that this played a bit of a factor.

GAME ONE: Riga opens the scoring in this series off a nice passing play on the powerplay. Gints Meija was the recipient of a cross-crease pass from Mat Robinson, and he went shelf over Leighton for the powerplay marker at 13:22. Donbass would get a powerplay goal of their own when Petteri Wirtanen was the recipient of a juicy rebound that he fired home past Tellqvist at 12:25 of the second. At 15:59, Lukas Kaspar drew a defender to him on a two-on-one before feeding the puck across to a wide-open Clay Wilson who had no problem swatting the puck into the back of the net while shorthanded for a 2-1 Donbass lead. Teemu Laine would make it a 3-1 game on the powerplay as his blast past a screened Tellqvist at 1:45 of the third period. Evgeny Dadonov goes forehand-backhand-back-of-the-net on a partial breakaway at 16:01 to make it a 4-1 Donbass lead. 40 seconds later, Lauris Darzins slips a puck past Leighton, and it's 4-2 for Donbass. Riga sends out the extra attacker, but Teemu Laine pots the empty-netter for a 5-2 Donbass victory. DONBASS DONETSK LEADS 1-0.

GAME TWO: Donbass would open the scoring in this game as Clay Wilson dropped the puck for Teemu Laine, and his long wrist shot beat Mikael Tellqvist for the 1-0 lead. Oleg Piganovich would make it a 2-0 game just 2:34 into the second period when his wrist shot from the point eludes the screen and Tellqvist. Riga would cut the lead in half when Roberts Bukarts long wrist shot from the highest high-slot beat Michael Leighton at the 12:01 mark. Teemu Laine ices this game late, though, as he wins a footrace at 18:17 of the third for the empty-net goal as Donbass skates to the 3-1 win. DONBASS DONETSK LEADS 2-0.

GAME THREE: Riga returned home needing a win badly, and they definitely came to play tonight in the Latvian capital. Donbass, though, opened the scoring as Maxim Yakutsenya's backhander finds rooms between Tellqvist's pads for the 1-0 lead just 3:58 into the game. Riga evens the score on the powerplay at 16:16 when Marcel Hossa deflects a slap-pass past Leighton to tie the game at 1-1. 4:10 into the second period, Yakutsenya fires a centering pass to Evgeny Dadonov who tips the puck past Tellqvist, giving Donbass a 2-1 lead. Again, Riga ties it up off a long wrist shot as Maris Bicevskis' off-speed shot eludes Leighton at 6:34 of the second. At 8:13, Lukas Kaspar finds himself on a breakaway where Tellqvist gets a piece of the shot, but not enough as the puck finds the net to put Donbass up 3-2. That would end Tellqvist's night as Riga would go with backup Jakub Sedlacek for the rest of the evening. That move seemed to spark Riga as they rattled off five straight goals: Gints Meija on a wrap-around at 16:10 of the second; Marcel Hossa on a curl to the slot at 18:33 of the second; Andris Dzerins on a loose puck in the slot at 0:49 of the third (which prompted Leighton to be pulled for Jan Laco); Kristaps Sotnieks on a one-timer from the slot at 3:44 of the third; and Lauris Darzins 37 seconds later on a partial breakaway snaps one past Laco. Final score would be 7-2 for Dinamo Riga as they make a statement in this game. DONBASS DONETSK LEADS 2-1.

GAME FOUR: If a statement was made in the last game, Donbass wasn't listening. They opened the scoring in Game Four as Teemu Laine dragged Jakub Sedlacek across the crease until there was an opening, and he fired it home at the 3:44 mark. Maxim Yakutsenya would make it 2-0 at the 18:05 mark of the second period when he tipped home a centering pass past Sedlacek. At 6:54 of the third, Lukas Kaspar streaked down the left wing, pulling Sedlacek out of the net, and while he missed the wrap-around, Sergei Varlamov poked the puck into the vacant net for a 3-0 lead for Donbass. Gints Meija would whack home a puck in front of the Donbass net at 12:44, but Donbass' Tuomas Kiiskinen would win a footrace for the empty-net goal to seal the deal at 19:54 for the 4-1 win. DONBASS DONETSK LEADS 3-1.

GAME FIVE: Riga's backs were against the wall in this game. Win and they live another day. Lose and they go home. Riga started things off right as Gints Meija's centering pass on the powerplay was blocked, but he picked up the loose puck and backhanded it past Jan Laco for the 1-0 lead 17:01 into the game. Lauris Darzins is the recipient of a nice cross-ice pass from Sandis Ozolinsh, and he pots his third goal of the playoffs at the 7:11 mark of the second period for a 2-0 Riga lead. With 1:15 left in the second, Tuomas Kiiskinen was the man who found the puck in a goalmouth scramble during a Donbass two-man advantage, and he slid the puck home to cut Riga's lead to 2-1. Jakub Sedlacek would allow no other pucks to pass, though, and Riga would escape Donetsk with a 2-1 win! DONBASS DONETSK LEADS 3-2.

GAME SIX: Same story for Riga: gotta win to stay in, and Donbass was looking to close this series out for a second time. Donbass would open the scoring in the second period as Maxim Yakutsenya's wrap-around finds the twine to give Donetsk the 1-0 lead at 5:05 of the middle frame. Riga would respond a couple of minutes later as Lauris Darzins converts a pass from behind the net to even the game with 10:02 to play in the period. With both teams skating four-on-four, Riga's Andris Dzerins took a drop pass and fired a puck towards Michael Leighton that deflected off a defenceman and past the goalie! Riga jumped ahead 2-1 at the 13:59 mark of the second. The goalies would match each other save-for-save the rest of the way, and the final horn gave Riga the 2-1 win to push this series to seven games! SERIES TIED AT 3-3.

GAME SEVEN: Game Seven was supposed to take place in Donetsk, Ukraine, but the game was moved to Bratislava, Slovakia due to the political strife happening in Ukraine. Donbass didn't seem to mind as they struck first at the 4:00 mark when Evgeny Dadonov picked up a rebound on the powerplay and put it home for the 1-0 lead. 2:17 later, Teemu Laine one-times a perfect feed from Clay Wilson for his sixth goal of the playoffs, and Donbass was out in front 2-0. At 16:31, Gints Meija rifled a shot upstairs past Laco to cut the lead to 2-1. Donbass would go back up by two when Dadonov finished off a tic-tac-toe play at the 6:25 mark of the third period, and that would be all that Laco needed to finish off this game as Donbass Donetsk advances over Dinamo Riga! DONBASS DONETSK WINS 4-3.

Looking at the semi-final match-ups, SKA St. Petersburg will take on Lokomotiv Yaroslavl while Lev Prague will play Donbass Donetsk in Bratislava as their remaining games will be played outside of their home arena due to the political unrest in Ukraine. Lokomotiv is the underdog favorite at this point, but SKA appears to be the wise choice to advance from the West.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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