Friday, 3 April 2009

The Cosmonaut Cup

The guy to the left? Pretty important guy if you're from Russia. Or NASA. That's Yuri Gagarin, the famous cosmonaut who was the first human being into outer space on April 12, 1961. While Mr. Gagarin never had any real ties to hockey in any way, he is still revered Russia for his flight into the sky. While this isn't Space Blog In Canada, the KHL's Gagarin Cup Playoffs are nearing the end, and two teams are battling right now for the right to be the first team to hoist the Gagarin Cup into the air. It's down to Ak Bars Kazan and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, so let's take a quick peek over at the KHL to see who has the inside track for this lofty title.

Game One went Thursday night in Kazan, Russia along the shores of the Kazanka River. The #2-ranked Snow Leopards from Kazan met up with the #3-ranked Lokomotiv Yaroslavl with both team looking to establish themselves. The two fierce rivals will determine the first Gagarin Cup Champion, and have bragging rights for at least a year.

The first period was a rather chippy affair from what I can tell. Both teams tried to establish a physical presence, but neither team could break through the other team's defence. Kazan goaltender Stanislav Galimov and Yaroslavl goaltender Georgy Gelashvili traded saves to hold both teams scoreless into the first intermission.

The second period opened with a flurry of action, and, in the ninth minute, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl opened the scoring on a goal by Zbynek Irgl on the powerplay. That started the potent Lokomotiv attack. Three minutes after Irgl's goal, Konstantin Rudenko made it 2-0. Before the second period was out, Lokomotiv struck again. With less than two minutes to play, Zbynek Irgl notched his second goal of the game, and Yaroslavl went into the second intermission up 3-0 over the hometown team.

Lokomotiv played shutdown hockey from that point forward. Kazan couldn't mount any sort of offensive attack, and the comeback was thwarted at the final buzzer. Yaroslavl had drawn first blood with a 3-0 win over Kazan, and owned a 1-0 series lead. With the shutout, goaltender Georgy Gelashvili picked up his third-straight doughnut, and extended his shutout streak to 188 minutes.

Game Two went Friday night in Kazan, and both teams knew what was riding on this game. Kazan needed the win to split the first two games, while Yaroslavl wanted to go home with a 2-0 series lead and a potential stranglehold on the series. Huge implications were riding on this game.

Lokomotiv broke open the scoring early in this game as Alexey Yashin potted his seventh goal of the playoffs at the 8:48 mark. 14 seconds later, Nikita Klyukin scored his first goal of the playoffs for Yaroslavl, giving Lokomotiv a 2-0 lead. Sergei Konkov made it 3-0 on his second goal of the playoffs, putting Lokomotiv out to an impressive lead within the first 14 minutes of the game. But all was not lost for the Kazan side as Aleksey Morozov scored Kazan's first goal of the Final at 16:33 on a wicked slapshot from the blueline that eluded Gelashvili's glove. Kazan was still down two goals, but they had broken Gelashvili's shutout streak at 205 minutes and 22 seconds with Morozov's sixth of the playoffs.

The second period was marked by chances for both sides, but both Galimov and Gelashvili were equal to the task. However, the majority of this period was played along the boards and in the neutral zone as both teams looked to add to their total.

The third period looked to have Yaroslavl in control, but Kazan broke through at the 9:43 mark for another goal. Dmitriy Obuhkov's third of the playoffs brought Kazan within one goal at 3-2. Lokomotiv buckled down and played solid defensive hockey, but, with the goalie pulled, Kazan struck again. Ilya Nikulin scored his second of the playoffs at 18:46 of the third period to tie the game at 3-3, and Kazan was right back into the thick of things. Neither team could capitalize in the last 1:14, and we were off to overtime.

Overtime didn't last long either. Riding their wave of momentum, Kazan struck at the 47 second mark when Andrey Pervyshin scored his first of the playoffs. Kazan had rallied from three goals down to win Game Two by a 4-3 overtime score, and even the series at one game apiece.

The next two games take place in Yaroslavl on Sunday and Monday. Home-ice advantage now belongs to Yaroslavl, so Kazan will need to play as hard as they did over the last 40 minutes of Game Two if they want to return home in Game Five with, at worst, a 2-2 series tie. Stay tuned to HBIC for more KHL updates!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


JTH said...

Just wondering, have you come across very many pictures of the Cup itself?

I think it really looks great, but the best ones I've found are this photo (which I believe is just a bigger version of the one you put up in your first post about the Cup playoffs about a month ago) and this one.

Tony said...

Maybe it should read

"Two teams are playing for the right to hoist the first and last Gagarin Cup"


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