The second ever Gagarin Cup playoffs that will determine the Kontinental Hockey League champion, start on Wednesday, March, 10. Eight teams that have qualified for the playoffs from the KHL Western Conference, will face each other that day, and eight top teams from the Eastern Conference are going to hit the ice on Thursday, March, 11. The Conference Quarterfinal series are best-of-5 and starting with the Conference Semifinals all series will be best-of-7.
Conference Quarter final matchups are as follows.
1st seed SKA St Petersburg vs 8th seed Dinamo Riga
SKA have collected 122 points during the regular season, 38 more than the Riga side. In four games between the teams SKA have 3 wins, including one in overtime, and one defeat. SKA outscored Dinamo 14-7 in the process. SKA is a heavy favorite of this matchup being a more balanced and talented team overall. St Petersburg top scorers are veterans Maxim Sushinsky (27 goals and 65 points), Alexei Yashin (18 goals and 64 points) and Sergei Zubov (10 goals and 42 points, tied for defensemen scoring race title). Dinamo’s major scoring threat comes from Slovak national team winger Marcel Hossa whose 35 goals made him top goal-scorer of the KHL this season. Statistically SKA offense was 2nd in the KHL (192 goals) and Dinamo’s was 5th (174). On defense SKA has a definite advantage: 118 GA (3rd) against Riga’s 175 GA (20th).
2nd seed HC MVD Moscow region vs 7th seed CSKA Moscow
HC MVD became one of the major pleasant surprises during the KHL regular season, producing a well-balanced and disciplined hockey, stability of results and a unique team spirit. The team led by head coach Oleg Znarok who coached the Latvian national side at the recent Olympics, has won the Tarasov division thanks to the last day overtime effort against Lada Togliatti. HC MVD have gained 102 points overall during the regular season, 15 more than CSKA. The two teams have met twice during the regular season and CSKA won both games in shootouts. HC MVD does not possess blazing attack but 10 of their players have scored 20 plus points during the regular season with leaders being Canadian center Matt Ellison (16 goals, 34 points), Slovak national team defenseman Martin Strbak (8 goals, 33 points) and center Alexei Tsvetkov (12 goals, 30 points). CSKA have one designated scorer, winger Denis Parshin (21 goals, 43 points), who is 15 points ahead of the team’s second best scorer, Russian national team defenseman Konstantin Korneev (7 goals, 28 points). HC MVD was 11th in scoring during the regular season (160 goals), CSKA was 16th (148 goals); the teams have identical figures on the D – 135 goals against, - that make them 7th-8th on defense in the league.
3rd seed Dynamo Moscow vs 6th seed Spartak Moscow
These clubs are arch-rivals in Russian sports and not only in hockey – that makes this matchup extremely exciting. Dynamo have collected 101 points during the regular season, only 9 more than Spartak. In their four games Spartak side have scored the decision with 3 wins (one coming in shootout) and one defeat. Dynamo’s top players on offense are Swedish national Mattias Weinhandl (26 goals, 60 points) and the speedy Czech Jiri Hudler with 19 goals and 54 points. Only four other Dynamo players have passed the 20-point plateau. Spartak boasts steady leadership from Slovak power-forward Branko Radivojevic (18 goals, 54 points along with 115 minutes of penalties) and his counterparts Stefan Ruzicka (16 goals, 36 points), Martin Cibak (17 goals, 32 points) and defensemen Ivan Baranka (10 goals, 32 points) and currently injured Jaroslav Obsut (9 goals, 23 points). Spartak is 3rd in goal-scoring this season with 178 goals, Dynamo is 9th (166 goals). Dynamo is better on defense though (10th, 151 GA). Spartak is 17th with 168 GA.
4th seed Atlant Moscow region vs 5th seed Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
A tough battle is expected here as only 5 points separate the two teams in the standings. They have met four times during the regular season and won two games apiece (one Atlant victory has been achieved in a shootout). Atlant main offensive force is winger Sergei Mozyakin whose 66 points made him KHL’s top scorer. Czech sniper Jan Bulis is distant 2nd (25 goals, 43 points). Head coach Nikolai Borschevsky can rely on solid Slovakian netminder Jan Lasak, who is especially successful during the last part of the regular season. Lokomotiv goalie Georgi Gelashvili is spectacular as well (.926 saves during the season). Yaroslavl offense is well distributed between the corps with 10 players having scored 20 plus points, and the team’s defense is 6th overall (132 GA). Atlant defense stands 9th with 137 GA. On offense Atlant is 6th overall as well (173 goals), and Lokomotiv is 10th (163 goals).
1th seed Salavat Yulaev Ufa vs 8th seed Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg
Salavat has just won the Kontinent Cup for the best performance during the regular season – the team collected 129 points and is 65 points ahead of its first opponent. Nonetheless, Avtomobilist managed to provide strong competition in both of the teams’ regular season games – the first one they won in the shootout, the second one featured a nail-biting Salavat win with a one goal margin.
Ufa squad is heavily favored thanks to its balanced lineup packed with stars. There are as many as 13 players with 20 points or more, led by Alexander Radulov (24 goals, 63 points and a “plus 44”) and the Norse scorer Patrik Thoresen (24 goals, 57 points and a league leading “plus 45”). Avtomobilist top point scorer is Alexander Gulyavtsev (9 goals, 28 points), top goal-scorer Nikolai Bushuev has 13 goals. Only four Avtomobilist forwards topped 10 goals. Salavat has definite advantage in all crucial aspects of the game. Their offense is league-leading (215 goals), Avtomobilist’s is 22th (127 goals). On defense Ufa is 2nd in the league with 116 GA, their opponent is 11th (159 GA).
2nd seed Metallurg Magnitogorsk vs 7th seed Traktor Chelyabinsk
Metallurg is 3rd in the KHL in points (115) and possesses one of the best all-around rosters with steady attack, punishing defense and sharp goaltending. They are 51 points ahead of Traktor in the regular season and have swept the teams’ regular season series 4-0, outscoring Chelyabinsk 17-5. Magnitogorsk will expect blazing attack skills from winger Stanislav Chistov who leads the team in points (18 goals, 40 points), scoring touch from the Czech olympian Tomas Rolinek (20 goals, 33 points), veteran experience from Sergei Fedorov (9 goals, 29 points and a team leading “plus 25” as well as solid defensive effort and reliable goaltending from the pair of netminders Ilya Proskuriakov and Vasily Koshechkin (both with less than 1.93 GAA and more than .925 save percentage). On their part Traktor will rely on heavy hitting, forechecking and overall aggressive play that head coach Andrei Nazarov prefers. Traktor top scorer is Evgeni Skachkov (22 goals, 36 points) and none of their goalies have produced better than .897 save percentage figure. Magnitogorsk is 8th on offence and 1st on defense in the league (167-111), Traktor stands 20th on offense and 23th on defense (137-192).
3rd seed Ak Bars Kazan vs 6th seed Barys Astana
Reigning Gagarin Cup winner Ak Bars have been struggling for certain parts of the regular season but finally have gained its composure, acquired good forwards in Hannes Hyvonen and Roman Kukumberg and starts the playoffs as one of the top contenders. Kazan side have finished 17 points ahead of Barys in the regular season and have beaten the Kazakh club in both games this season (one win came via shootout). Interesting to note: Ak Bars have played against Barys as many as 9 games in KHL history and have won them all with a total score 39-14. Needless to say that Barys captain and top defenseman Kevin Dallman (14 goals and 42 points) is an extremely essential part of the team. But he is suspended for three games after receiving a match penalty during the final game of the regular season against Dynamo Moscow. Therefore top scorers Josef Stumpel, the Slovak olympian (13 goals, 51 points) and Maxim Spiridonov (24 goals, 50 points) are the team's major hope. Ak Bars main guns are, as usual, Russian national team captain Alexei Morozov (26 goals, 49 points) and Danis Zaripov (16 goals, 43 points) and the supporting Finn Jarkko Immonen (13 goals, 38 points). Ak Bars has been 12th on offence and 4th on defense this season (159-128), Barys have posted 7th offensive and 18th defensive records (169-173).
4th seed Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk vs 5th seed Avangard Omsk region
The not well known Neftekhimik squad is one of those Cinderella teams (along with HC MVD) that gain sympathy from fans for their constant effort, discipline and dedication. Neftekhimik have passed Avangard in the teams' race for home ice advantage, during the last game day of the regular season. 3 point cushion is Nizhnekamsk win. Neftekhimik won a game in regulation and lost another in shootout during the matchups against Avangard this season. One wondering about Nizhnekamsk troops won't be astonished with the numbers. Steady but mediocre goaltending, top scorer Niklas Persson's 13 goals and 37 points and nothing spectacular at all. They, obviously, have got other advantages that they hope will work against the Jagr-led Omsk troops. Top star Jaromir Jagr have scored modest 22 goals and 42 points this season and only one of his teammates have posted more than 30 points (Anton Kuryanov – 13 goals and 31 points). In goal Avangard relies on Finnish netminder Karri Ramo (2.11 GAA and .913 save percentage). During the regular season Neftekhimik have scored 176 goals (4th in the league) and have allowed 166 (16th). Avangard have been noticeably worse on offense – 152 goals (14th), but much stronger on defense – 128 GA (5th in the league).