Siberia and Ural derbies, Bykov vs Bilyaletdinov, and Olympic champions encounters. KHL.ru remembers the best rivalry series in the Gagarin Cup history.
Today, Avangard and Sibir are 3,000 kilometers apart. But before Avangard moved to Balashikha, the Siberian derby was one of the hottest encounters in the League. However, in the KHL, the two clubs met only once during the playoffs, in 2013 spring. To add hype to the event, the teams’ head coaches – Petri Matikainen and Dmitry Kvartalnov – played together in Austria for Klagenfurt in the Nineties. Kvartalnov scored more points as a player, and as a coach, he almost got Matikainen’s team out of the playoffs.
After a 5:0 in the first game, it looked like Sibir was almost back against the wall, but the next day Jeff Glass posted a shutout, and a young Nikita Zaitsev scored the game-winning goal for Sibir. The teams exchanged wins – no one wanted to lose, of course – but in the seventh game, Avangard’s experience made itself heard as Anton Belov, and Alexander Perezhogin broke Sibir’s hopes and any chance for a first-round sensation. However, this series will be long remembered in both Omsk and Novosibirsk.
Just as Avangard and Sibir, Metallurg and Traktor are two local rivals who didn’t often encounter in the postseason. The first and, thus far, the only clash between the two Ural franchises happened in the KHL’s second season. At times, the late Valery Belousov was on Metallurg’s bench, while a young coach called Andrei Nazarov led Traktor.
The student even stole one win to his maître as in game three a 17-years-old Evgeny Kuznetsov scored to gift the Black-and-Whites their only victory in that postseason. Kuznetsov was thus the youngest player to score a goal in a Gagarin Cup playoff, a record that was then broken by his fellow townmate Vitaly Kravtsov. For Magnitogorsk, the old guard was at its best: Denis Khlystov, Tomas Rolinek, Denis Platonov, and Stanislav Chistov were instrumental for the win. Moreover, Metallurg could also count on Sergei Fedorov.
Moscow against St. Petersburg is good for all seasons, and not only in hockey. The Red-and-Whites often challenges the Northern Russian capital, in both hockey and football. In the League’s inaugural season, Spartak met SKA in the playoff’s first round. SKA’s roster wasn’t as stacked as it is nowadays, but they could already count on players like Robert Esche, Maxim Sushinsky, and Sergei Brylin. Moreover, they finished the regular season with a higher seed than Spartak.
However, today’s Avangard president scored only once, in the second game, the one that ended in OT. The primary creators of the first playoffs sensation were the players that later became legends for Spartak: in the first game, Stefan Ruzicka scored a double, and the same did Maxim Rybin in game three. Spartak fan’s idol Branko Radivojevic also had an excellent series as head coach Milos Riha showed that he could not only coach good teams but that he can also win.
Last year’s series between CSKA and Spartak didn’t fall in our list – even if it was the first encounter of the two Moscow teams in the postseason – because it was very one-sided. The 2010 derby was a different beast. Dynamo Moscow was yet to join with HC MVD, and Spartak already had good playoff experience. Since the first game, it was evident that Milos Riha’s troops were ready to give a contender an early playoff exit.
Spartak’s captain Maxim Rybin already moved to SKA, but Spartak found other heroes. Kirill Knyazev scored the OT game-winning goal in the first game, and the next day a goal by Evgeny Lapenkov decided the outcome. Dynamo won only one game, even if they had a solid Mattias Weinhandl in his prime. Young Swedish stars Linus Omark and Johan Harju stayed off the grid and Spartak had a comfortable 4:0 win to get to the second round.
Historically, SKA and CSKA’s encounters are often memorable, and in the latest few seasons, the competition between the two Army teams became even fiercer. The best edition of the Army Derby was undoubtedly the 2015 one when Vyacheslav Bykov’s troops for the first time in history rallied from a 0:3 situation. That series added fuel to the fire.
The latest Army Derby featured a high number of recent Olympic champions. However, the hero of the first game wasn’t one of the players who just won the gold in Pyeongchang, but Andrei Kuzmenko, who scored a hat-trick to his next club. SKA won the next two games mostly thanks to Nikita Gusev – the author of the game-tying goal in the Olympic Games gold medal against Team Germany. However, then SKA could only score three times in the next three games and Oleg Znarok had to surrender to the wall organized by Igor Nikitin, who also won the gold in South Korea.
Before finally finding CSKA as a same-category sparring partner, SKA often had to fight against Dynamo in the playoffs. In that period, the team led by Oleg Znarok was the KHL’s main trend-setter. A team without stars, but with a long bench, a model of physical preparation and cohesiveness, that dominated the League in those years. They won the Gagarin Cup twice, stepping on the way to the Finals through their ambitious Northern opponents.
Jukka Jalonen challenged Dynamo after Milos Riha couldn’t achieve much in 2012. SKA had a better show with Jalonen and could take two games, but once again Dynamo made it through the Conference Finals. Two early wins in St. Petersburg gave Dynamo a two-game lead, and when the St. Petersburg Army made it a 2:3 series, Marek Kvapil had a hat-trick and got the Blues-and-Whites to the finals, while SKA decided to change coaches yet another time.
In KHL’s ten-year history, many rivals met during the playoffs. Some rivalries were born in the USSR, while others – like the Far-East derby – are more recent. However, no rivalry can match the Green Derby, at least with its brand. Moreover, Ak Bars and Salavat Yulaev met six times in the playoffs. Under these conditions, it’s hard to pick one series, but the best one was probably the one from the 2011 Gagarin Cup playoffs.
At that moment, Ufa already experienced the bitter taste of losing to Kazan in the Eastern Conference Finals. There was only one way to break the spell: defeating the reigning champions. It was also a clash of great coaches: Zinetula Bilyaletdinov and Vyacheslav Bykov. However, instead of their usual forward-first mentality, Salavat Yulaev became a true chameleon who could beat their opposition at their own game. Even Erik Ersberg had a great showing, opposite to what he was in the regular season. The fifth game was the best example of the series, with only one goal scored by Alexander Radulov.