On Thursday, the KHL Gagarin Cup playoffs’ second round will start in the Eastern Conference.
Avtomobilist steamrolled over Traktor Chelyabinsk in the first round, gaining easy second-round access, while Salavat Yulaev put on a fierce battle to get the best over Metallurg Magnitogorsk with a 4-2 score. In spite of the recent success, Avtomobilist never climbed that high, while Salavat Yulaev is a habitué at this level as they have a chance to reach their fifth Conference Final.
From a certain point of view, Avtomobilist is a favorite for this series. The Ural team enjoyed more time off after defeating Chelyabinsk in just four games, and finished the regular season in the first place, compared with Salavat Yulaev’s sixth seed. However, the same was said in the first round with regards to Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and everyone saw the outcome. Ufa’s Nordic Legion stepped up and had an incredible performance in the Ural battle, successfully flanked by Kadeikin’s line defensive effort against Sergei Mozyakin and his linemates.
Avtomobilist finished the series against Traktor as the League’s top team with the man advantage – this will be one of the team’s primary weapons. Nigel Dawes, Dan Sexton, Stephane Da Costa, and Anatoly Golyshev are very dangerous forwards, and Salavat Yulaev must pay the right attention not to leave them too much space in the offensive zone. Da Costa will miss game one due to a suspension.
After the 2016 change of ownership, Avtomobilist became a top club in the League, but Salavat Yulaev isn’t going to just watch and see. Other than its import stars, Ufa can boast solid domestic options with players like Anton Burdasov, Vladimir Tkachyov, and Dmitry Kugryshev. Alexander Kadeikin is another crucial player for Ufa thanks to his defensive awareness and excellent puck control. Both teams have chances to win a pass to the Eastern Conference finals.
After a successful first round against Ak Bars, Avangard has all it takes to be a successful team in the postseason. Bench boss Bob Hartley created a fantastic mix of North American hockey with a European accent that will pose a severe challenge to any team. In the first round, the Hawks looked unbeatable, and while Kazan had better seasons, sweeping them 4-0 is indeed not an easy feat, and coach Hartley was rightfully pumped after the triumph. Sergei Shumakov is in tremendous shape and showed against Ak Bars that he can change the outcome of the game with his talent. On goal, Igor Bobkov was just awarded Best Goalie of the first round, and this speaks aloud on the kind of season he is having this year.
On the other side of the rink, Henrik Karlsson hasn’t been as capable, and this can be a small advantage for the Hawks, whose top players were hot in the first round and all had a significant contribution toward the win. Barys needed seven games to skate past Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in a tight series. Darren Dietz was instrumental for the Kazakhstani club as he scored a double in the seventh encounter to secure Barys its second Eastern Conference finals appearance. Brandon Bochenski and Matthew Frattin gave their contribution as the team fought against the injury of Roman Starchenko – a local favorite and one of the top scorers in the team – piling up points in the most needed moments. Frattin scored in six games of seven and was the top goal scorer of the first round with six goals. Barys’ bench boss Andrei Skabelka hopes to recover Starchenko to have more ammunition for his arsenal.
In spite of the lower seed, Avangard looks like the team to beat in this series. In any case, Barys is ready to put on a fight and will not just watch and see Hartley’s team scoring goals without reacting. Fans of both sides should be prepared to follow a long series.
The Western Conference playoffs’ second round kicks off on March 14.