Saturday, 3 April 2010

Gagarin Cup Update

The Eastern and Western Conference Finals are underway over in Russia as the KHL's Gagarin Cup Playoffs push forward. I also want to post a little info regarding Hockey Night In Canada's report on the KHL by Eliotte Friedman, but we'll do that at the end. If you didn't see HNIC on Saturday in regards to this report, it's something that should be seen. However, we'll look at the playoffs first, and then get into the eyebrow-raising report filed by Friedman. We'll start in the Eastern Conference, move to the Western Conference, and then jump back to the CBC.

Eastern Conference Final

#1 Salavat Yulaev Ufa vs. #3 Ak Bars Kazan

Game One was a back-and-forth affair between these two teams. Nikita Alexeyev's first goal of the playoffs put Kazan up by a 1-0 score 10:34 into the first period. Kazan struck again just 23 seconds later when Dmitry Kazionov netted his second goal of the playoffs. Ufa would cut the lead to one goal at 13:16 when Igor Grigorenko fired home his fourth of the Gagarin Cup Playoffs. After one period, Ak Bars Kazan had the 2-1 lead.

Special teams played a big role in the second period. Alexei Medvedev drew Ufa even at the 10:00 mark of the second period on the powerplay as his shot found a hole through goalie Petri Vehanen, and the game was knotted at 2-2. Kazionov put Kazan back in front just 58 seconds later while shorthanded when he put home his second of the game past goaltender Alexander Yeremenko, and Ak Bars Kazan took a 3-2 lead into the second intermission.

The third period saw Kazan extend their lead back to two goals. Alexei Tereshchenko scored his second goal of the playoffs at 5:13 of the third period, and Kazan had the 4-2 lead. Ufa responded at 11:38 when Alexander Radulov notched his fourth goal of the playoffs, and the lead was reduced to 4-3. However, Kazan stood tall the rest of the way, securing the 4-3 victory in Game One.

Game Two saw Ufa go with Vitaly Kolesnik in the nets after Yeremenko took the loss in Game One. A second sell-out crowd of 8250 took this game in, and they got all they could handle and more.

There was no scoring through the first period, leading us to the second period. With Ufa's Alexander Perezhogin off for roughing, defenceman Ilya Nikulin put Kazan up 1-0 with his second goal of the playoffs with an unassisted goal at 8:22. The tight-checking continued, and, after forty minutes, Kazan had the 1-0 lead.

The third period saw Ufa draw even at 9:45. Vladimir Antipov netted his fourth goal of the postseason, and the two teams battled to the end of regulation time knotted at 1-1. Overtime loomed with the sudden-death period up next.

It only took 4:23 of overtime to determine a winner. Kazan's Hannes Hyvonen dented the twine with his fourth goal of the playoffs, and Ak Bars Kazan took a 2-0 series lead with the 2-1 overtime victory.

Both teams are limiting the points being scored by the top players on each team. Ufa's Alexander Radulov, who leads the playoffs in scoring, only has one goal to his name in two games, and teammate Patrick Thoresen, who leads the playoffs in assists, has two helpers over two games.

On the flip side, Kazan's Alexei Morozov only has one assist in two games, while leading assist man, Jarkko Immonen, has yet to record a point in two games. If this keeps up, the role players will determine this series, and it appears that Kazan has the better supporting cast thus far.

Western Conference Final

#2 HC MVD vs. #5 Yaroslavl Lokomotiv

Game One in the Western Conference Final began on Thursday. Matt Ellison gave HC MVD the early 1-0 lead when his shot eluded goaltender Georgy Gelashvili at 6:03. Both teams played extremely disciplined hockey despite the closely-contested affair. Neither team was whistled for a penalty in the opening period, and MVD held the lead into the first intermission.

6:04 into the second period, MVD extended their lead. Denis Kokarev notched his fourth of the playoffs, and HC MVD was out to a 2-0 lead. For a team with only one loss through two rounds, it appeared that MVD might run away with Game One. However, Lokomotiv's Nikita Klyukin scored his second goal of the playoffs past goaltender Michael Garnett at 18:09 of the second period, and cut the deficit to one goal as HC MVD led 2-1 after forty minutes.

Lokomotiv tied the game up 7:15 into the third period. Josef Vasicek's sixth goal of the playoffs drew the teams even at 2-2, and the shutdown hockey resumed. Both teams battled through the last half of the period without goals, and it was off to overtime.

It didn't take long for a winner to emerge in the overtime period. 8:08 in saw MVD's Alexei Tsvetkov send the 5770 hometown fans happy as he scored the overtime winner. With the 3-2 overtime victory, HC MVD was out to the 1-0 series lead.

Game Two went Friday, and both goaltenders were back in their respective nets with HC MVD leading 1-0 in the series.

Just like Game One, HC MVD struck first in the second period. Alexei Ugarov ripped a shot past Gelashvili for his fifth of the playoffs at 7:13, and the home team was out to a 1-0 lead.

We jump ahead to the third period. Lokomotiv's Alexander Galimov netted his fifth goal of the playoffs at 11:15, and the two teams were square at 1-1. Again, the final horn sounded, and the second game of the series would move into overtime just as the first game did.

This overtime period looked like it solved nothing as the final minute ticked off the clock, but a winner was crowned. At 19:32 of the overtime period, Lokomotiv's Konstantin Rudenko scored his fifth goal of the playoffs, and Lokomotiv skated to the 2-1 overtime victory. The series is tied at 1-1, and Game Three goes Sunday evening.

There are your updates as the four remaining teams battle for the Kontinental Hockey League's biggest prize. I'll continue to update the series next weekend, and look at the battle for the Gagarin Cup once it begins.

As for tonight, there was an interesting look at the KHL done by CBC's and Hockey Night In Canada's Elliotte Friedman. I can't embed the video due to CBC's copyright, so, instead, I'll link to the video. It's definitely worth watching. It's a little long at 13:07, but the information is very interesting.

To see the video, please click here. Please note that I couldn't get the video to play in Firefox no matter what I did, but it did play in Internet Explorer. You may have to use IE to view the video.

I really respect Mr. Friedman's look at the KHL, and I feel that he doesn't slant the story either way. The KHL is certainly a work in progress in terms of becoming an elite league. However, the money is certainly good for those players who have made the jump across the pond, and sometimes you just have to grin and bear it if you want the big payday.

I'm quite certain that European-born players would have no problem adjusting to life in Russia's top hockey circuit, but for those players who may have a shot at the NHL, life might be better riding the buses in the AHL. After all, it's extremely rare for a player to be recalled from the KHL rather than the AHL.

Overall, I appreciate Mr. Friedman's look at the KHL, and it really gives good insight to how the league and players operate over in Russia. But as SKA St. Petersburg head coach Barry Smith said, "the NHL players really have no idea how well they have it, how spoiled they are".

Sometimes, the grass may be greener, but players should consider the house the grass is attached to. John Grahame's story from Mr. Friedman's piece is fair warning on how the framework of that house may be built.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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