Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 19 April 2016


For the fifth time in eight seasons, it took a seventh game in the Gagarin Cup Final to finally award the Gagarin Cup to a winner, but the KHL has a new champion after Monday's thrilling final game! Metallurg Magnitogorsk is the top team in the Russia-based league for the second time in the team's history after winning in 2014 in seven games over Lev Prague. There was some intrigue as Magnitogorsk was up 3-2 in the series before CSKA Moscow forced a Game Seven with a 3-2 overtime win in Game Six, but Monday evening saw the team from the Chelyabinsk Oblast region in Russia finally capture their second championship!

Game Seven would be played at the CSKA Ice Palace in Moscow. Magnita's Evgeny Timkin opened the scoring at 12:55 of the first period as he went in on a breakaway and fired glove-side for the goal to put Magnitogorsk up 1-0. Kudos to defenceman Chris Lee who threaded a beautiful blue-line-to-blue-line lead pass to Timkin to set up that goal after CSKA turned the puck over at the offensive blue line. That score would hold through to the intermission as the visitors held the slimmest of leads.

The second period saw the home side even things up. Geoff Platt's wrister from the top of the face-off circle was stopped easily by Vitaly Koshechkin, but the rebound landed dangerously in slot where Maxim Mamin picked up the loose puck and tucked it home on the backhand for CSKA. Honestly, Koshechkin can't give up those kinds of rebounds, but he had been getting away with it through the first twenty minutes. Unfortunately for him and Magnitka, it cost him at 15:54 of the second period. I should also point out the horrific defensive coverage on Mamin committed by Alexei Kaigorodov who let Mamin skate right by him and then did nothing to try and catch him. Overall, a failure on a couple of Metallurg players that allowed CSKA to get on the board.

Magnitogorsk would storm back, though. Alexei Bereglazov won a puck battle in the corner and got it to Jan Kovar who took the puck along the end boards and threw a dangerous pass into the slot where it found Chris Lee pinching in off the blue line. Lee wristed the puck from the slot past Ilya Sorokin's glove to put Magnitogorsk up 2-1 at 18:57 of the third period as the two teams would go into the second intermission separated by the same margin as they did after the first period!

Despite throwing everything they had at Koshechkin and Metallurg, CSKA could only find the post on a couple of occasions in the third period. A late turnover at the defensive blue line by Bogdan Kiselevich allowed Evgeny Timkin to seal the championship with an empty-net goal with 43 seconds to play as Metallurg Magnitogorsk are your new Gagarin Cup champions!

Here are the video highlights of the game.

Let's get into a few interesting notes about this championship.

First off, Alexander Semin, who started the season with the Montreal Canadiens, is now a Gagarin Cup champion. Semin, as you may recall, was sent down to the AHL's St. John's IceCaps midway through the season, but refused the assignment and opted for free agency. The Canadiens terminated his contract, and he was off to Russia to continue his career. Upon leaving the Canadiens organization, Semin had a mere four points in 15 games and was frequently a healthy scratch.

With Magnitogorsk, Semin found a bit of his scoring touch as he recorded five goals and 14 points in 20 regular-season games. In the playoffs, however, he was certainly a vital cog in the Metallurg offence. Semin had seven goals and 15 points in 23 KHL playoff games, and he will soon have a Gagarin Cup ring to show off. For a guy whose stock took a beating in North America, it's nice to see him find a little happiness at what is most likely the end of his NHL career for good.

Sergei Mozyakin was named as the Gagarin Cup Playoffs MVP, and it's not hard to see why. Mozyakin led the league in playoff points with 25 and was tops with 11 goals. He was often the motor that drove this Metallurg offence as he has done for the last few seasons, and he deserves the recognition as he might be the best Russian player not playing in the NHL right now. Mozyakin should garner a Hall of Fame spot when he finally decides to call it quits as he regularly appears in the top-ten scoring lists for the KHL and has been a vital piece of two Gagarin Cup championships now.

The top line of CSKA consisting of Alex Radulov, Ivan Telegin, and Stephane De Costa was a -3 in this game. They were on for all three goals-against, and your top line has to be better than that. Radulov was denied another Russian championship after coming close in previous seasons, and you might think that this has to start weighing on him. There have been rumours of him joining the Colorado Avalanche under former Remparts head coach Patrick Roy where he played junior hockey, but any speculation about that right now is a little premature. However, the sting of being the bridesmaid once again can't feel good for Radulov.

For CSKA, this is another setback that has kept them from Russian hockey supremacy since 1989. Moscow's top team just can't seem to find a way to break through after falling short again. There was quiet chatter that if Radulov does decide to bolt to the NHL once again that the Red Army team might take a run at Pavel Datsyuk if he decided to come home thanks to the Detroit ties he has with GM Sergei Fedorov, but I feel that Datsyuk would likely play closer to home. As with most Russian rumours, though, don't count anything out as CSKA looks for the only championship it has never won.

Metallurg head coach Ilya Vorobyov, at the age of 41, becomes the youngest man to coach a team to the Gagarin Cup in the KHL, and also becomes the first coach to win a Gagarin Cup after taking over a team midway through the season. Mike Keenan began the season as Metallurg's bench boss, but he was replaced by Vorobyov who really encouraged Metallurg to push the play through speed and creativity. Keenan remained as an advisor to the team, however, and it appears this combination of Vorobyov and Keenan worked well for Metallurg with Vorobyov directing the troops and Keenan scouting the opposition. Congratulations to both men on helping Magnitogorsk capture its second championship!

Danis Zaripov wasn't a huge factor in these playoffs when it came to points, but the veteran forward now has his fourth Gagarin Cup ring. Zaripov has been in Magnitogorsk for the two championships they have won, but he also played for Ak Bars Kazan during their heyday in 2009 and 2010 when they captured back-to-back Gagarin Cups! Zaripov has always been a solid scoring forward for Russia and has appeared numerous times on the international stage for the country where he has always impressed me with his hustle and willingness to go to the high-traffic areas to score. It's nice to see guys like that get rewarded again and again for their efforts!

CSKA played Ilya Sorokin who, in the past, has been a solid choice for them and for Russia on the international stage, but it was interesting to see former NHL netminder Viktor Fasth sitting on the bench. I'm not saying Fasth is better than Sorokin, but the 33 year-old Swede has been in the NHL. Granted, he's never played an NHL playoff game or, in this case, a KHL playoff games, but he was 13-4-1 in the KHL this season. Sorokin was 17-7-4 on the season. Dmitry Kvartalnov went with the younger Sorokin for every minute in the playoffs, though, so I supposed he was riding the hot goalie.

To the victors, however, go the spoils, and Metallurg Magnitogorsk are your 2016 Gagarin Cup champions in the KHL! Congratulations to Magnitka on an impressive playoff run as they hoist Russia's biggest hockey prize for the second time!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: