Playoffs, Step 2

18 March 2010, 23:59

The second round (Conference semifinals) of the Gagarin Cup playoffs start on Friday, March, 19. Four Kontinental Hockey League Western Conference teams that have won their first round playoff series will face each other that day, and four teams from the Eastern Conference are going start their series on Sunday, March, 20. From now on series of the remaining playoff rounds will be best-of-7.

Conference semifinalfinal matchups of the 2010 KHL playoffs are as follows.

Western Conference

2nd seed HC MVD Moscow region vs 8th seed Dinamo Riga
The Latvian team has posted the first major upset of this season's playoffs having eliminated the heavily favored SKA St Petersburg club. Dinamo won the series 3 games to 1 taking advantage of its solid goaltending, rocket fast counter attack and physical presence. HC MVD have easily beaten CSKA in three straight games and have demonstrated dominance over the opposition in most game aspects. During the regular season the teams have met twice with HC MVD winners of both games. The Oleg Znarok coached squad will rely on the solid Michael Garnett in goal (1.67 GAA and .915 saves), team leader in ice-time Martin Strbak (1 goal, 4 points and 22.22 TOI) and their top scorer Matt Ellison (2 goals, 5 points, and 21.02 TOI). Dinamo will expect stellar performance from winger Martin Kariya (best forward of the first playoff round, 3 goals, 5 points) and, most of all, reliability of their goaltending duo of Egrars Masalskis (1.21 GAA, .962 save percentage in playoffs) and Martin Prusek (1.99 GAA, .941 percentage).

5th seed Lokomotiv Yaroslavl vs 6th seed Spartak Moscow
It would be wise to expect a tough and tight matchup here. Spartak have crushed the favored Dynamo Moscow in four while shutting them out two times. Lokomotiv, gaining their composure with the new head coach Petr Vorobiev, have eliminated the competent Atlant team in four games as well. Spartak have won both encounters with Lokomotiv this season with a total score of 7-2 but is considered the underdog here. The teams have met in the second round of the Gagarin Cup playoffs last season as well with Lokomotiv winning confidently, 3-0. Yaroslavl team is highly motivated, disciplined and balanced. Watch goalie Georgi Gelashvili (1.94 GAA, .937 save percentage) and fellow Czech forwards Josef Vasicek (2 goals, 5 points) and Zbynek Irgl (2 goals, 4 points). Spartak relies on its goaltender Dmitri Kochnev who was stellar against Dynamo (1.45 GAA, .952 save percentage) and emotional offense which was surprisingly led by grinders like Evgeni Lapenkov, Andrei Kuzmin and Alexander Buturlin. Their top scorer though is team captain Dmitri Upper with 2 goals and 3 points.

Eastern Conference

1th seed Salavat Yulaev Ufa vs 4th seed Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
The Salavat roster is stacked with talent and the team is expected to win this one confidently. During the regular season the Ufa team have won both games against Nizhnekamsk with a total score of 9-2. Salavat offense is remarkable for its scoring ability and versatility. Alexander Radulov is the top scorer of the playoffs with 2 goals and 9 points, the Norwegian sniper Patrik Thoresen has 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) and best Conference QF defenseman, the Czech Miro Blatak has 3 goals and 4 points along with a “plus 4”. Neftekhimik, as usual, relies heavily on system and discipline. Their goalie Ivan Kasutin is capable of stealing every game he plays in (1.00 GAA and .958 save percentage during the 1st round 3-0 beating of Avangard), and forwards Maxim Pestushko and Maxim Yakutsenya have scored 3 goals each so far.

2nd seed Metallurg Magnitogorsk vs 3rd seed Ak Bars Kazan
This one should be pure classic. Both teams have been solid contenders during the last decade and have played several remarkable battles between them. Being division rivals as well they have met four times during the regular season - Metallurg have won three games (including one in overtime) and therefore is considered to have a slight advantage. Magnitogorsk have beaten neighbors from Traktor Chelyabinsk in four games with two games decided in overtime, and Ak Bars have swept Barys Astana while playing the longest overtime in KHL playoff history (44.39, game 1 in Kazan).

Magnitogorsk towering goalie Vasily Koshechkin (1.62 GAA, .944 save percentage) will be a factor there as well as the top point scorers Denis Platonov (3 goals, 4 points) and Stanislav Chistov (2 goals, 4 points). Veteran leadership from Sergei Fedorov (2 points) will also be welcomed. Ak Bars have lost their sniper Danis Zaripov to injury sustained in game 1, but still has got good chances. Kazan leaders have been the Finns so far in the playoffs. Goaltender Petri Vehanen (1.61 GAA, .925 save percentage) has been very solid, and attackers Jarkko Immonen (1 goal, 5 points), Niko Kapanen (4 goals) and Hannes Hyvonen (2 goals, 3 points) are their top scorers heading into the Conference semifinals.

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