After defeating HC Sochi in six games in the first round, Lokomotiv’s bench boss Dmitry Kvartalnov decided to rotate the roster even more, and as a result, a new KHL record for the youngest team was established: the Railwaymen’s roster averaged a little more than 23 years – but it wasn’t enough. Lokomotiv’s youth played with a lot of energy, but SKA managed to control the game for most of the time, and this made the result. After losing leading blueliner Staffan Kronwall due to a lower-body injury, Kvartalnov decided to rotate the imports and favor local players. The move gave its results in game three when Artur Kayumov, Nikolay Kovalenko, Georgy Ivanov, Artyom Ilyenko, Yegor Korshkov, and Danil Yurtaikin all had points as Lokomotiv had the best of St. Petersburg with a 3-1 score.
However, one win is not enough to win a series, and while Lokomotiv’s youth had excellent games, SKA quickly gained the upper hand and will go through to the Western Conference semifinals. It has been a good season for Lokomotiv, but next year it won’t be easy as many key players – from Andrei Loktionov to Yegor Korshkov and Alexander Yelesin – will see their contract run out next April 30. From one hand, many players showed to be ready to be their heirs, like defenseman Daniil Misyul or forwards Georgy Ivanov and Danil Yurtaikin. From the other hand, it will be a hot offseason for Yaroslavl, who will also most likely part ways with most of the international players. It should be noted that while Korshkov, Yelesin, and Pavel Kraskovsky will most likely leave the team, other young players like top rookie goaltender Ilya Konovalov and forwards Nikolai Kovalenko and Grigory Denisenko are on long-term contracts and will be back next year.
On the shores of the Neva, Ilya Vorobyov and his staff are already looking forward meeting CSKA Moscow in the Western Conference semifinals for the fourth time in five years. The Army team had an excellent series and, most importantly, managed to get a quick win without injuries. Nikita Gusev was once again instrumental in SKA’s victories and now top the League – tied with Salavat Yulaev’s top Finn Teemu Hartikainen – with 14 (6+8) points in the postseason, including a 2+2 performance in game-five.
Swedish defenseman David Rundblad is going on with his hot streak and had yet another game-winning goal in the series – he leads the League with four GWG. Another player who had a strong series is Sergei Plotnikov. The former Railwayman scored only once in the playoffs (in the first round against Spartak Moscow), but collected nine assists and is leading the League with 49 hits. On goal, Vorobyov has two equally good options in Magnus Hellberg and Igor Shestyorkin – whoever plays, the team knows that they can count on solid protection of the crease.
The Army derby will be once again an interesting one. Last year, CSKA had the best in six games, with a fantastic double by Mikhail Grigorenko, including the game-winner in OT, in game-six. Will this year’s series be longer? We’ll know soon.
The Western Conference semifinals will kick off on March 28 in Moscow.