CSKA, SKA, Lokomotiv, and HC Dynamo move to the Western Conference’s second round. Jokerit and Spartak fought tooth and nail but couldn’t get past the first-round barrier. KHL.ru reviews the Western Conference’s first round of the 2019 playoffs.
CSKA wins the series 4-0
The only pair in the Western Conference to elect a winner after only four games, this series didn’t reserve any surprise as CSKA skated past Vityaz without particular difficulties, as it was expected. The regular season’s top goal scorer Kirill Kaprizov scored only once, but it was a true master’s goal: receiving the puck in the slot in game four, Kirill moved it past the goalie with a fantastic, through-the-leg trick that left Vityaz’s goalie Alexander Samonov clueless. And of course, it was the game-winning goal.
However, the best player in the series was Mikhail Grigorenko. The forward produced an impressive two points per game, ending the first round with eight points in four encounters – being also the top sniper with five goals. Other strong performers for the Red Army include Konstantin Okulov, Maxim Shalunov, and defenseman Nikita Nesterov. On the blue line, Mikhail Naumenkov and Alexei Marchenko didn’t often appear on the score sheet, but when they were on the ice, CSKA scored six goals and allowed zero – an impressive feat by the two defensemen.
Vityaz ended the season with four straight losses, and while it was quite expectable, it was still a bitter ending for them. CSKA had a fantastic job in closing Alexander Semin, who couldn’t find the net for the whole series, and the goaltending wasn’t up to the task, allowing 16 goals in the series.
SKA wins the series 4-2
SKA took a good shake in the first two games of the series when Spartak sensationally won back-to-back games as the Army men were cornered. However, the Vorobyov’s troops managed to revert the momentum and won four games in a row as Spartak couldn’t stop the opposition’s top stars. Nikita Gusev was instrumental in the sixth and last game, posting a goal and an assist, after being a shadow of himself in the first two games. David Rundblad also played well for SKA, especially when the team needed it the most.
The series was full of drama, doubtful episodes, and incredible outcomes. Spartak had a huge morale blow when Latvian national Kaspars Daugavins suffered from a severe injury after a collision with SKA’s goalie Igor Shestyorkin in game three. Nevertheless, the Red-and-Whites fought hard through the whole series but had a hard time containing SKA’s firepower with the man advantage.
In spite of the loss, Spartak can be proud of itself. With a bit more luck in game four, won by SKA in OT – and a bit less penalties – the outcome of the series may have been different. Igor Ulanov can watch at the next season with optimism, and the management has a good starting point to build the team for the 2019-20 campaign.
Lokomotiv wins the series 4-2
In the end, Lokomotiv prevailed in this series, but Sochi put on a fierce battle and forced the team led by Dmitry Kvartalnov to six games. It sounds even more impressive if considering that after four games, the series was tied at two when Sochi rallied from being down by two games. First Andrei Altybarmakyan found the right angle to get the puck past goalie Ilya Konovalov in OT to win the game for Sochi, then the Leopards played their best hockey in the series – pushed by a big-time 8,000+ crowd, to defeat the Railwaymen with a final 3:1 score.
However, in the final two games of the series, Lokomotiv got its groove and defeated Sochi twice to get to the second round. Alexander Salak got back as a starting goalie for these two games, and posted an impressive saves percentage of 95.5%, shutting out Sochi in game six. Staffan Kronwall lived a second youth during the encounters and emerged as one of the League’s top scoring defensemen and led the team with six points in as many games. Regarding forwards, Brandon Kozun scored 5 (1+4) points, Artur Kayumov had a great series with 4 (1+3) points, and Daniil Apalkov added three goals to his account in the playoffs. After an average regular season, Pavel Kraskovsky was instrumental for the Railwaymen in the sixth and final game, posting a double – including the game-winner.
All things considered, the Leopards can be satisfied with their season. Unfortunately for them, once again they couldn’t get past the first-round barrier, but they put on a real fight against a better team and pleased the fans with two home wins.
Dynamo wins the series 4-2
The battle between Helsinki and Moscow didn’t turn itself into a seven-game affair – quite the opposite. While Jokerit won two games, there were little doubts that HC Dynamo would be the one to prevail. The Blue-and-Whites showcased all their firepower with Patrik Zackrisson recovering after a weak regular season to score 8 (3+5) points in six games. Usual suspects Vadim Shipachyov and Dmitry Kagarlitsky also scored at a fast pace, with players like Miks Indrasis, Daniil Tarasov, and Ivan Igumnov tuning in the playoff mode.
Alexander Yeryomenko and Ivan Bocharov were great between the pipes, but what really made the difference was HC Dynamo’s performance in penalty killing. Vladimir Krikunov, HC Dynamo’s bench boss, had a fantastic job in getting his team avoiding being scored with the man advantage, and if the team keeps on defending its crease that way, the Blue-and-Whites will be a hard client to deal with for the rest of the playoffs.
Hardly Jokerit could do more this season, especially considering the fact of having to face HC Dynamo – a well-coached team with more than enough firepower, a solid defense, and two excellent goalies. The Helsinki team will be back next year with even more motivation.