Omsk rules the continent
Avangard today broke the monopoly of Salavat Yulaev, winners of the two previous regular championships, and became the new holders of the Continental Cup. The Omsk men put themselves out of reach of all their rivals with one game to spare. Raimo Summanen’s team won the title with fewer points than were needed in the first and second KHL championships: the Ufa men notched 129 points for both their triumphs (although 123 would have sufficed to beat their nearest rivals), whereas the Siberians’ winning total is 115. It is a far higher finish than the Omsk men are used to in the regular championship: in season 2008/2009 they only scraped into the play-offs in sixteenth place, and the following year they finished eleventh.
All places fully booked
We now know the identity of all the participants for this season’s play-offs. And even though there is still one more round of games to play, Dinamo Minsk can already begin preparing for the knockout stage. Their rivals from Nizhny Novgorod contrived to let their recent lead over the Minsk men slip away and their third straight defeat today robs them of even having a mathematical chance of qualifying to do battle for the Gagarin Cup.
It is a first for the KHL to have all the playoff berths booked before the final day’s games. Back in the first season, Severstal slipped up to allow Avangard to go through, while last year Sibir were overtaken in similar fashion by Avtomobilist.
The KHL’s tendency to spring a surprise, however, remains intact. In each of the three championships the battle for sixteenth place produces some kind of sensation. Severstal blew their chance with just 56 seconds of the season remaining, while Sibir and Avtomobilist simultaneously conjured up shock results, with the former losing to lowly Vityaz while the latter upset the odds against high-flying SKA with a victory away in Petersburg.
First ever play-off
It will be Dinamo Minsk’s debut in the Kontinental Hockey League play-offs. The Belarus outfit finished 22nd in the regular championship first time around, and the next year moved up to 17th.
Of the teams which have featured in all three KHL championships, three have yet to make it to the play-offs: Metallurg Novokuznetsk (once again the weakest side in the League), Vityaz (who twice occupied the second from bottom spot, but this year moved up a place), and Amur (who suffered their worst campaign in the KHL).
Two of the KHL’s ever-present clubs, CSKA and Traktor, tasted failure for the first time, as did the men of Yekaterinburg, who did not take part in the first KHL championship.
Figure of the day
10-1, Severstal’s record victory in the KHL. The Cherepovets men beat their previous highest score by three goals, and their previous highest winning margin by four.
Andrei Mezin (Dinamo Minsk). Saved 25 shots out of 26 to help his team claim the last play-off place.
Alexander Guskov (Lokomotiv). Spent over 25 minutes on the ice, in which time he fired nine shots on goal and two of these found the target.
Bogdan Kiselevich (Severstal). Set a record for the season, earning a rating of +5.
Danis Zaripov (Ak Bars). Spent over 18 minutes on the ice and supplied the passes for three goals.
Vadim Shipachev (Severstal). Scored one goal, assisted on two more, finished at a +4 and won more than 66% of his face-offs.
Sergei Mozyakin (Atlant). A goal and an assist in regulation time then two successful shots in the shootout, including the game-decider.
Quotes of the day
“We hit peak form today,” Amur head coach Alexander Blinov.
“In two games Bruckler has allowed eleven goals, which speaks for itself… But I don’t want to criticize players; I don’t have that right. We’ll make our judgments when we do our analysis of the season,” Torpedo head coach Vladimir Golubovich.
“If you’re satisfied with your results, then in sporting terms you’re dead,” Avangard head coach Raimo Summanen.
“I didn’t expect us to clinch the play-off place today. At first we planned to be cautious, play out of defense in the neutral zone, and wait for a chance, since we know of the Ufa guys’ power, we tried to play hockey of the highest level,” Dinamo Minsk head coach Marek Sykora.
“I have nothing to say, unfortunately,” Salavat Yulaev head coach Vyacheslav Bykov.
Alexei Shevchenko, special to khl.ru