Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Forged In Metal

I'll give the ending away already with the image to the left, but the KHL crowned its champion today and only one team would stand as the winner between Eastern Conference champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Western Conference champion Lev Prague. Both teams came into the final having steamrolled their way through their respective conferences, but only one would stand as the winner. Let's check out how the image above came to be as we look at the series between Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Lev Prague. As always, overtime goals are always included!


E1 Metallurg Magnitogorsk vs. W3 Lev Prague

GAME ONE: We start off in Arena Metallurg for Game One of the Gagarin Cup Final. At the 10:02 mark, Metallurg's Viktor Antipin hammered Lev's Petr Vrana at center ice with an open-ice hit, but the referees deemed to be interference and overly rough play. Anitpin was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct, and that led to the game's opening goal. Martin Svec one-timed a pass from Justin Azevedo from the point on that powerplay, and the puck found its way through a maze of legs to end up behind Metallurg's Vasily Koshechkin for the 1-0 Lev lead. We jump to the 4:35 mark of the second period where Jiri Sekac's pass into the slot finds the tape of Petr Vrana, and Vrana pulls it across the crease before flipping the backhander past an outstretched Koshechkin for the 2-0 Lev lead. And with 1:43 to play in the game, Justin Azevedo fired a shot from center into the vacated net for the 3-0 win. Petri Vehanen made 21 saves for the shutout. LEV PRAGUE LEADS 1-0.

GAME TWO: Metallurg looked to bounce back on home ice to even the series before moving to the Czech Republic while Lev wanted to go home up 2-0. Both teams held firm in the first period as they came into the second period scoreless, but that wouldn't last for long in the middle frame. Mikhail Yunkov's pass from the corner was perfectly one-timed by Bogdan Potekhin from the slot through the five-hole of Petri Vehanen, giving Metallurg the 1-0 lead just 3:04 into the period. After Lev's Michal Repik was stopped on a penalty shot, Metallurg made it 2-0 when Sergei Mozyakin fed a pass across the slot to Danis Zaripov who had nothing but twine to shoot at and he made no mistake at the 13:19 mark. 1:35 later while on the powerplay, Mozyakin fanned on a one-timer from the right face-off circle that is mishandled by both Jiri Novotny and Nathan Oystrick of Lev! The bouncing puck settled on the stick of Jan Kovar who rifled it past Vehanen for the 3-0 Metallurg lead. 44 seconds into the third period, Metallurg went up 4-0 when Rinat Ibragimov's point shot ricocheted past Vehanen on a couple of deflections before Sergei Mozyakin tapped it across the goal line. Justin Azevedo would get one back with 3:25 to play, but Metallurg would skate to the 4-1 win in Game Two. SERIES TIED AT 1-1.

GAME THREE: The series shifted to the O2 Arena in Prague, and both teams wanted to get a jump on the best-of-five series that came out of the first two games. Just 1:25 in, we'd get our first goal. Lev Prague came out on fire, and they would strike first when Jiri Sekac circled the zone before wrapping the puck around the net off Metallurg defender Vladimir Malenkikh and past Vasily Koshechkin for the 1-0 lead! We'd have to jump to the 18:57 mark of the second period for the next goal. With Metallurg on the powerplay, Sergei Mozyakin took the puck off the half-boards, circled to the high slot, and unleashed a slapshot that found the back of the net past Petri Vehanen for the 1-1 equalizer! Just 59 seconds into the third period, Nathan Oystrick's cross-ice feed on the powerplay into the slot found Justin Azevedo who one-timed it past Koshechkin for the 2-1 Lev lead! With 1:18 left and Koshechkin on the bench, Sergei Moyzakin's point shot doesn't get through to the net, but the puck bounces to Francis Paré who fires home his fifth of the playoffs to knot this game up at 2-2. Overtime loomed, but Metallurg gave the puck away at center ice with 28 seconds to play. Mikko Maenpaa grabbed the loose puck, brought it in over the line while drawing two defenders to him, and then fed the puck to a streaking Justin Azevedo whose shot went between Koshechkin's body and arm, barely crossing the line! Lev led 3-2 with 24 seconds to play, and that would be the final in Game Three! LEV PRAGUE LEADS 2-1.

GAME FOUR: The largest crowd in KHL history filled the O2 Arena for Game Four as 17073 people attended the game. Just 3:57 in, Evgeny Timkin made some nifty moves down the right wing before circling the net and setting up Yaroslav Khabarov for the one-timer from the top of the left circle that found twine behind Petri Vehanen for the early 1-0 Metallurg lead. Lev would respond when Niko Kapanen caused the turnover and got the puck to David Ullstom in the high slot where he ripped home a wrist shot at 7:10 for the 1-1 equalizer. 10:03 later, Patrik Zackrisson slid a short pass to Justin Azevedo coming down the left side, and his wrister from the face-off dot found room past Vasily Koshechkin for the 2-1 Lev Prague lead. 59 seconds after that, Metallurg found themselves on the powerplay when Sergei Mozyakin fed Danis Zaripov at the left post who slid a cross-crease pass to Viktor Antipin who buried it for the 2-2 tie going into the intermission. We jump to 6:02 of the second period where Azevedo fed Ondrej Nemec at the point, and he teed up a blast past a screened Koshechkin with the man-advantage for the 3-2 Lev lead. Metallurg would respond at the 14:02 mark when Mozyakin's pass out front found Antipin, and his shot literally squeezed between Vehanen's left pad and the post to even the game at 3-3. 38 seconds into the third period, Sergei Mozyakin is given way too much room to skate as he beat three Lev defenders before sending a cross-ice pass to Danis Zaripov who had nothing but cage to shoot at with Vehanen overplaying Mozyakin. Make it 4-3 Metallurg on Zaripov's ninth goal. And those two would hook up again at 4:07 mark on a 4-on-3 powerplay as Mozyakin wired a pass from the left point to the right post where Zaripov one-timed it past Vehanen for the 5-3 Metallurg lead. Koshechkin would need no additional goals as Metallurg skated to the 5-3 win in Game Four to make it a best-of-three series heading home! SERIES TIED AT 2-2.

GAME FIVE: Back to the mining town of Magnitogorsk for Game Five, and the winner of this one would be one game from the biggest prize in Russian hockey! A scoreless first period would lead to the first goal of the game in the second period. 5:36 into the middle frame, Jan Kovar made a nice room around Jiri Sekac to gain the zone, and then fired a pass cross-ice to Sergei Mozyakin who one-timed the pass home past Petri Vehanen to give Metallurg the 1-0 lead! We jump to the 2:54 mark of the third period and Lev's Patrik Zackrisson fed Martin Sevc at the point, and his wrist shot is tipped past Koshechkin by Justin Azevedo to even the score at 1-1! Both goalies would stand tall for the remaining seventeen minutes, and we were off to overtime for the first time in the Gagarin Cup Final! It would only take 8:43 for this game to be decided in the extra period.
Danis Zaripov made a strong play along the boards, keeping the puck in the zone on the clearing attempt. That allowed Jan Kovar to pick up the loose puck, and he spotted Sergei Mozyakin who one-timed the pass low past Vehanen for the 2-1 overtime win! METALLURG MAGNITOGORSK LEADS 3-2.

GAME SIX: Lev Prague needed a win on home ice to keep this series rolling as the series shifted back to the Czech Republic. We'd see our first goal at 9:47 when Sergei Mozyakin charged down the left wing, getting a step on Mikko Maenpaa as he angled towards the net, and his backhander found its way through Vehanen for the early 1-0 Metallurg lead. Lev would respond on the powerplay at the 13:53 mark when Ondrej Nemec set up Justin Azevedo for a slapshot at the point, and his blast would find its way past Vitaly Koshechkin for the 1-1 tie. Late in the period, Lev would be on another powerplay when Ondrej Nemec faked a shot from the point, drawing everyone to him, before feeding the pass across the ice to the right face-off dot where Martin Sevc blasted home the one-timer for the 2-1 Lev lead with 51 seconds left in the period. Just 2:35 into the second period, Metallurg's Oskar Osala picked up the puck ebhind the net and fed the puck into the slot for Mikhail Yunkov who one-timed the puck home for the 2-2 tie. 2:20 after that, Tim Brent forced a turnover in the Lev zone thaty saw the puck go to Chris Lee who one-timed a laser at Vehanen. Vehanen got a piece of it, but the puck went into the air and over him, landing in the net to put Metallurg up 3-2. Lev would respond just 3:03 later, Ryan O'Byrne picked up a puck in the high slot area with the Metallurg defenders deep in their zone, and he wired a wrist shot past a number of falling defenders and Koshechkin for the 3-3 equalizer. With 1:19 to play in the period, Mozyakin found some room around Martin Sevc, and his feed into the slot from the right wing found Francis Paré who one-timed a blast past Vehanen for the 4-3 lead after two periods. Late in third period with the 4-3 score holding, a scrum on the wall in the Metallurg zone saw the puck pop free to Mozyakin. Mikko Maenpaa checked him before he could clear the puck, and Maenpaa wired a wrist shot to tie the game at 4-4 with 2:21 to play! That means this one would be solved in overtime!
That was probably the worst way to lose that game as Nathan Oystrick's shot from a horrible angle goes in off Koshechkin's leg for the 5-4 Lev win in overtime! That also means we're going to a Game Seven, and it's now down to a one-game championship!

Just as a note, that was the first playoff goal that O'Byrne scored since being a member of the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs in 2007! If Brad Pitt spent seven years in Tibet, Ryan O'Byrne spent seven years in goal-scorer's purgatory! SERIES TIED AT 3-3.

GAME SEVEN: Winner takes all tonight as the series returned to Arena Metallurg for Game Seven! The home crowd was on its feet early as Francis Pare putting home the loose puck after Yaroslav Khabarov's deflected blue-liner squeezed through Petri Vehanen's pads just 4:43 into the game. Lev would rally and tie the game at 13:49 when Mark-Andre Gragnani's shot from the point was deflected by David Ullstrom to even things at 1-1. Jumping ahead to the 3:32 of the second period, Evgeny Biryukov wired a wrist shot high to the corner past Vehanen for the 2-1 Metallurg lead. Ryan O'Byrne would notch his second goal of the Final at the 14:41 mark after putting home a rebound on the fourth attempt on Koshechkin as Lev knotted it up at 2-2 again. At the 16:56 mark, though, Metallurg would jump ahead once more when Evgeny Timkin broke away from Calle Ridderwall before dropping a pass to Yaroslav Kosov for the one-timer to put the home squad up 3-2. 1:41 later, Jan Kovar tipped a Danis Zaripov shot past Vehanen with 2:23 to play in the period, and Metallurg carried a 4-2 advantage into the intermission. Petri Vehanen would be replaced by Atte Engren to start the third period, but Metallurg continued the offensive onslaught. 3:10 in, Zaripov would set up Mozyakin for an easy tap-in for the 5-2 lead. At 12:25, Zaripov netted a goal of his own to make it 6-2. Martin Thornberg would score 1:30 later to cut the deficit to 6-3 and Justin Azevedo would make it 6-4 with 1:41 to play, but Metallurg would seal the deal with nine seconds to play when Mikhail Yunkov scored into an empty net for the 7-4 victory in Game Seven, and the first Gagarin Cup for Metallurg Magnitogorsk! METALLURG MAGNITOGORSK WINS 4-3.

Now I want to draw your attention to a pile of records that were set in this year's Gagarin Cup Final:
  • Sergei Mozyakin scored 106 points in the regular season and playoffs combined, setting a new record for points in a season by any player in the KHL, Russian SuperLeague, or the Soviet League.
  • Mike Keenan became the first non-Russian coach to win the Gagarin Cup, and the first foreigner to lead his team to a Russian championship since Vladimir Vuitek did so with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in 2002 and 2003.
  • Lev Prague became the first non-Russian team to participate in a Gagarin Cup Final.
  • Lev Prague set the KHL single-game attendance record in Game Four at the O2 Arena when 17,073 fans packed into the arena.
  • Justin Azevedo became the first player in KHL history to record a goal in all seven Gagarin Cup Final games.
  • The two teams set a record for goals in the Final with 44 and for one Final game with 11.
As seen above, the boys from Metallurg Magnitogorsk hoisted the Gagarin Cup in victory, so let's see that picture in full-size!
Congratulations to Metallurg Magnitogorsk - the 2013-2014 Gagarin Cup Champions!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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