Saturday, 16 April 2011

New Kings Of The KHL

I've been meaning to update everyone on the Gagarin Cup Playoffs in the KHL, but various stories just keep popping up that merit their own looks. However, today was a big day for the KHL as their third champion was crowned as Salavat Yulaev Ufa captured the Gagarin Cup for the first time in their history. Salavat Yulaev Ufa was the third-seed in the Eastern Conference, and they knocked off the fourth-seeded Atlant Mytishchi in five games to earn the championship trophy.

Salavat Yulaev captain Viktor Kozlov, the former NHL star, stated after winning the Gagarin Cup that the road to the championship was a difficult one.

"I don’t think we’ll really know the taste of victory until tomorrow," Kozlov said. "It hasn’t really sunk in yet what we’ve done. One thing I can say: the road to the Cup was a really tricky one."

I'd say that Kozlov's assessment was correct. Salavat Yulaev battled to the second-best record in the KHL this season with 109 points earned over their 54 regular season games. However, because they play in the same division as KHL regular season Avangard Omsk, they found themselves as the third-seed for the Gagarin Cup Playoffs.

In the opening round, Salavat Yulaev Ufa was hardly challenged by Sibir Novosibirsk as Salavat Yulaev cruised to the four-game series sweep. Sibir only led once throughout the entire series, and the 26-point difference between these two teams was evident from the first puck being dropped in this series. Salavat Yulaev would advance to the quarter-finals to play the defending KHL champions and second-seeded Ak Bars Kazan.

If the adage holds true, it is said that one must beat the best to be the best. Salavat Yulaev took the series to Kazan from the outset, and Kazan couldn't recover. Salavat Yulaev jumped out to a 3-0 series lead on the strength of a 3-2 overtime win in Game One, a 3-1 victory in Game Two, and a 2-1 overtime win in Game Three. They would drop Game Four to Kazan by a 4-0 score, but the writing was on the wall as Salavat Yulaev returned the shut out by closing out the series on the strength of a 1-0 victory. After downing the defending champions, Salavat Yulaev looked forward to a meeting with the fourth-seeded Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the semi-final.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Salavat Yulaev locked horns in the semi-final, and this series felt like it could be the championship. Salavat Yulaev jumped out to the 3-1 series lead, and it looked like it was going to be another quick series for Ufa as they won Game One by a 4-3 score, Game Two by a 4-0 score, and Game Four by a 4-2 score. However, Magnitogorsk didn't quit, and they took Game Five by a 4-3 score, and then pushed series to a seventh game by winning Game Six by a 5-3 score. Both teams entered Game Seven with their defensive schemes on display, and it wasn't until 6:41 into the third period that a goal was tallied. Ufa's Vladimir Antipov scored his third goal of the playoffs in what would stand as the game-winning and series-winning goal as Salavat Yulaev won Game Seven by a 1-0 score.

So it was off to the KHL Gagarin Cup Final where Salavat Yulaev Ufa would meet Atlant Mytishchi after Atlant had knocked off the Western Conference top-seed in Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in six games.

Game One went down to the wire as it took extra time to find a winner. Just 1:43 into the extra period, Salavat Yulaev's Andrei Kuteikin scored his second goal of the playoffs to put Ufa up 1-0 in the series. Game Two saw Igor Grigorenko score his eighth and ninth goals of the playoffs, and his ninth was the game-winner as Salavat Yulaev took a 2-0 series lead with a 3-1 win. Game Three went back and forth in terms of scoring as Salavat Yulaev would score and Atlant would equalize. However, Salavat Yulaev's Patrick Thoresen would notch the winner with 7:15 to play as Salavat Yulaev won the game 3-2, giving them a commanding 3-0 series lead in the final.

The series was much like the Kazan-Salavat Yulaev series where Salavat Yulaev jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a one-goal overtime win, a two-goal win, and another one-goal win except that Game Three didn't make it to overtime. Game Four, however, was almost identical in that Atlant came out buzzing and didn't let up as they downed Salavat Yulaev by a 4-0 score. Game Five, as seen in this series, was similar to Game Five of that Kazan-Salavat Yulaev series as it was decided by one goal as well. Alexander Svitov, the former Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jacket, scored with just over four minutes to go to put Salavat Yulaev up 3-1. A late goal by Atlant cut the lead to 3-2, but there wouldn't be any more goals as Salavat Yulaev closed out the series with a 3-2 win to earn their first Gagarin Cup!

Congratulations go out to Salavat Yulaev Ufa on their first championship! There were some pretty impressive performances by former NHL players in the players, so let's take a look at some of the more relevant stats:

  • former Nashville Predator Alexander Radulov - three goals, 15 assists for a team-leading 18 points in leading Salavat Yulaev Ufa to a championship.
  • former Shark, Panther, Devil, Islander, and Capital Viktor Kozlov - four goals, six assists in leading Salavat Yulaev Ufa as the captain to a championship.
  • former Red Wing, Sabre, and Thrasher Vyacheslav Kozlov - two goals, seven assists in helping Salavat Yulaev Ufa to a championship. Just as a note, this Kozlov was the only player on the Ufa team to finish as a minus-player after posting a -5 in the playoffs.
  • former Lightning and Blue Jacket Alexander Svitov - five goals, three assists in helping Salavat Yulaev to the championship.
  • former Flame, Coyote, and Senator Oleg Saprykin - three goals, two assists in helping Salavat Yulaev to the championship.
  • former King goaltender Erik Ersberg - 15-4 in the playoffs with a 1.93 GAA and a .933 save percentage in helping Salavat Yulaev to the championship.
Not a bad performance at all for most of the former NHL players, I'd say.

Without dragging this out any further, here are your 2010-11 KHL Gagarin Cup Champions: Salavat Yulaev Ufa!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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