Monday, 28 February 2011

Going Further East

Yesterday, we took a look at the opening games for the Western Conference in the 2011 KHL Gagarin Cup Playoffs. One team, SKA Saint Petersburg, had already moved on to the second round after sweeping Spartak Moscow, but the other three series were still on-going. I didn't look at the four series in the Eastern Conference that began on Thursday, so tonight would be an appropriate time to update those skirmishes. One of these teams will represent the Eastern Conference in the Gagarin Cup final, so let's take a look at who is marching towards glory!

(1) Avangard Omsk Oblast vs. (8) Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk

Avangard was the top team in the KHL this season after having amassed 118 points in 54 games, so there wasn't much hope for Neftekhimik when this series started on Thursday night as 43 points separated these teams in the standings. However, an early goal by Igor Polygalov put the underdogs up just nine minutes into the game! Neftekhimik battled hard and refused to give up any chances through most of the game, but Avangard finally broke through just 54 seconds into the third period. Alexei Kaluzhny scored for Avangard, and the game was tied at 1-1. The two teams continued to play stingy defence, and we were off to overtime after sixty minutes. Just 4:19 into the extra frame, Igor Polygalov notched his second of the night past former NHL goaltender Karri Ramo, and Neftekhimik recorded the 2-1 overtime victory in Game One!

Game Two went on Friday night, and we saw more of the same defensive play in the second act of this series. In fact, both teams held each other at bay through all three periods, sending the game to overtime tied 0-0 as both Karri Ramo and Neftekhimik's Ivan Kasutin were perfect through sixty minutes! It didn't takevery long to decide a winner once overtime started, though. Avangard's Dmitry Semin put the puck behind Kasutin, and Avangard recorded the 1-0 overtime victory in Game Two to even the series at 1-1.

With the series heading back to Omsk on Sunday, there was some concern on the Avangard side about their play. More goals would be needed if the team was to succeed, and we got to see a few more in Game Three. Niklas Persson opened the scoring for Neftekhimik with a shorthanded marker just 2:52 in, but that deficit would be erased by Igor Volkov six minutes later. Renat Mamashev put Neftekhimik up by one goal 2:15 into the second period, but Avangard responded five minutes later when Yegor Averin wired home his first of the playoffs. With less than three minutes left in the second period, Neftekhimik's Libor Pivko deposited another puck behind Karri Ramo as Neftekhimik closed out the period up 3-2. Solid defence was played the rest of the way, and Neftekhimik closed out Game Three with the 3-2 victory to go up 2-1 in the series.

Game Four saw one of the poster children for the KHL come alive. Avangard's Jaromir Jagr, who had been held pointless in the first three games, set up two goals on this night. Avangard's Roman Cervenka also added a pair of helpers as three different scorers found the back of the net for Avangard on Monday. Pavel Brendl was the only player to beat Ramo on this night, and Avangard skated to the 3-1 victory. Once again, the series was tied, and the 2-2 deadlock meant that this series was now a best-of-three!

Game Five of this series is set for Wednesday, March 3, and Game Six appears to be scheduled for Friday. If a Game Seven is necessary, we're looking at a Saturday or Sunday date for that game.

You have to think that Avangard will break pout of their funk and start scoring some goals on Neftekhimik. However, I really like the job that Neftekhimik is doing in neutralizing Avangard's scorers, especially Jaromir Jagr. If Neftekhimik can keep this up, we might see another upset! I'm pulling for Neftekhimik in this one just to see if I can predict both first-seeded teams eliminated in the first round!

(2) Ak Bars Kazan vs. (7) Barys Astana

Kazan are the defending Gagarin Cup Champions, and are looking to make it three KHL Championships in a row! Standing between them and glory are Barys Astana from Astana, Kazakhstan. Game One, like the series above, was a defence-first game as the two teams combined for one goal. Yep, just one. Barys' Vitaly Yeremeyev played an outstanding game, but he was the goaltender who allowed the one goal. Kazan's Jarkko Immonen scored at 13:34 of the first period, and it was all the offence that Petri Vehanen needed as he shut the door on Barys. Ak Bars Kazan win the game by a 1-0 score, and go up in the series 1-0.

Game Two on Friday saw Kazan treat Barys in the same fashion as they did in Game One. Goals by Alexei Morozov, Marcel Hossa, and Alexei Tereshchenko powered Kazan to a second straight victory. How was this game the same, you ask? Petri Vehanen pitched his second straight shutout in backstopping Kazan to the 3-0 victory. It doesn't look promising for Barys when they have yet to record a goal in two playoff games. Kazan jumps ahead 2-0 in the series with the victory.

Sunday's Game Three saw Kazan rolling again as they took Barys to the woodshed. Kazan hung half a dozen goals on Barys as Janne Pesonen, Danis Zaripov, Jarkko Immonen, and Grigory Panin all scored singles while Alexei Morozov recorded a pair of goals. Morozov finished the night with four points, and Evgeny Medvedev had a pair of helpers. Petri Vehanen was looking for his third straight shutout, but his bid to open a playoff series with three straight blankings ended when Lukas Kaspar scored a powerplay goal at 3:04 of the third period for Barys. If you're keeping track at home, that 163:04 of shutout hockey that Vehanen had going. Kazan rolls to the 6-1 victory in Game Three, and Barys found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-0 series deficit.

Game Four has already been completed, and I can tell you that the champs are marching onward. Kazan jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Danis Zaripov and Alexei Tarashchenkov, but Barys made this one interesting. A powerplay goal at the end of the second period by Maxim Khudyakov made it a 2-1 game, and then a shorthanded marker 4:33 into the third period from Roman Starchenko squared the game at 2-2. Less than two minutes later, Zaripov scored again, and Kazan was back up 3-2. With 32 seconds remaining and Barys' Jeff Glass sitting on the bench for an extra attacker, Kazan iced the game and series when Niko Kapanen scored into the vacant net. Kazan wins Game Four by a 4-2 score, and sweeps the series against Barys Astana.

No additional games or predictions are needed as Kazan now gets some precious time to rest up and get ready for the second round as they look to three-peat as KHL Champions!

(3) Salavat Yulaev Ufa vs. (6) Sibir Novosibirsk

Salavat and Sibir may have finished third and sixth in the conference, but the 26-point difference between the two teams became obvious as this series progressed. Game One on Thursday night saw Salavat build a 5-0 before Sibir woke up. Two goals each by Petr Schastlivy and Igor Grigorenko along with a single by Vladimir Anitpov had Salavat up 5-0 with 18 minutes to play. A couple of late goals by Sibir only took some shine off the win as Salavat cruised to the 5-2 victory, and moved to a 1-0 series lead.

Game Two on Friday night saw Sibir jump out in front as Stepan Sannikov scored 4:20 into the second period to open the scoring. That would be the last lead in the game that Sibir would have as Petr Schastlivy, Igor Grigorenko, and Kirill Koltsov scored for Salavat to lead them to a second straight win. Former LA King netminder Erik Ersberg stopped 25 of 26 shots for his second win as Salavat moved to a 2-0 series advantage. Former Nashville Predator Alexander Radulov had a pair of assists for Salavat on the evening.

Game Three had Salavat at home, and they continued to roll. Alexander Radulov had a goal and three assists, Robert Nilsson scored twice and added a helper, Patrick Thoresen record his fourth and fifth assists of the series as Salavat thumped Sibir by a 6-2 score. Alexander Kutuzov had a goal and an assist for Sibir, but it clearly wasn't enough as Sibir's Liv Stefan allowed five goals on 32 shots before being relieved by Yuri Klyuchnikov. With the win, Salavat pushed Sibir to the brink as they led the series 3-0.

With Sibir facing elimination on the road, they would need a substantial effort to get out Ufa and back on home ice. It didn't start well on Monday as Alexander Svitov opened the scoring for Salavat just 2:37 in. Viktor Kozlov made it 2-0 before the opening period was done with his second goal of the playoffs. The hole got deeper for Sibir in the second period as Alexander Radulov scored his second goal of the series with five minutes left in the second. Just to make it a little worse, Svitov scored his second goal of the game and playoffs two minutes later. It was all but over when former NHL star Vyacheslav Kozlov added his first goal of the playoffs midway through the third period. Erik Ersberg shut the door on Sibir as Salavat recorded the 5-0 win, ending the series in a sweep.

Much like the Kazan-Barys series, no additional games nor is a prediction needed as Salavat wrapped up the series this evening. Salavat now awaits to find out who their opponents are in the next series.

(4) Metallurg Magnitogorsk vs. (5) Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk

While these two finished right next to each other in the standings, there was a clear divide in terms of talent when looking at the standings. Metallurg finished 13 points ahead of Yugra in the standings, so there seems to be a clear favorite in this series. Game One seemed like Metallurg had an advantage as they got goals from Juhamatti Aaltonen and Oleg Kvasha over a six-minute span in the second period. However, a powerplay goal by Ivan Khlyntsev pulled Yugra within one goal again. Another powerplay goal by Evgeny Blokhin just 19 seconds into the third pulled Yugra even. However, goals by Metallurg's Petri Kontiola and Enver Lisin less than a minute apart put Metallurg up for good. Georgy Gelashvili closed the door the rest of the way, giving Metallurg the 4-2 victory and the 1-0 series lead.

Game Two in Yugra's hometown of Khanty-Mansiysk saw the home team score first midway through the second period. Ivan Khlyntsev's second goal in as many games put the home squad up 1-0. Former NHL star Sergei Fedorov evened the score less than six minutes later as his shot found its way past Yugra goaltender Edgar Masalskis. 7:50 into the third period, Yugra would jump ahead again as Alexei Pepelyaev notched his first marker of the series. Masalskis would stop everything else thrown his way as he recorded saves on 37 of 38 shots while preserving the 2-1 win for Yugra. With the win, Yugra pulled the series even at 1-1.

Game Three would see another game decided by that one-goal margin. Yugra wasted no time in the opening frame as they got goals from Alexei Pepelyaev, Andrei Sidyakin, and Kirill Petrov to put Metallurg in a 3-0 hole. Juhamatti Aaltonen began chipping away at the deficit with his goal two minutes into the second period. Mikhail Tyulyapkin then restored the three-goal margin 40 seconds later for Yugra. Four minutes later, Enver Lisin drew Metallurg within two again with his second of the series. Sergei Fedorov tacked on another goal for Metallurg five-and-a-half minutes later, making it 4-3 for Yugra through two periods. Both goaltenders held their ground in the third period, giving Yugra the 4-3 victory to put them up 2-1 in the series.

The Monday game was another low-scoring affair. Stanislav Chistov opened the scoring for Metallurg at 18:21 of the first period. Yurga drew even 4:17 into the second period as Dmitry Altaryev beat Georgy Gelashvili to even the game at 1-1. The game-winner was scored at 7:29 of the third period on a penalty shot! Yurga's Dmitry Altaryev hauled down Metallurg's Denis Platonov on a breakaway, so Platonov got a chance to do it all over again. On the penalty shot, he made no mistake as he buried the puck behind Edgar Masalskis. That goal on the uncontested breakaway was the winner, and the 2-1 victory pulled Metallurg even in the series at 2-2.

Game Five goes Wednesday night, Game Six is scheduled for Friday night, and it appears Game Seven will go sometime on Saturday.

As for predictions, I really like Metallurg simply because of their legacy of producing strong teams and great players. While Yurga is an intriguing pick simply due to their underdog status, I have to go with Metallurg.

There are the Eastern Conference series up to this point. I'll try to update these on the weekend to round out who is moving on and who is going home. Of course, we'll check my fearless, albeit uneducated, prognostications and see how I fared with my limited KHL knowledge.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

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