For the third year in a row, Metallurg and Barys will cross their paths in the playoff’s first round. Given that the same pairing occurred in 2012 and in 2017, Magnitka is the most frequent postseason opponent for the Kazakh franchise. Interestingly, all possible variations in the duration of the series were exhausted in the four previous meetings: the first series lasted up to seven games, the second was four, the third was five games, and the fourth had six. Metallurg won three times, while Barys claimed the 2020 series.
For Metallurg, with its richer history, of course, there are more frequent opponents. For Barys, however, the clash with Magnitka is perhaps the most important of all. Their head-to-head encounters in the current regular season confirmed this: despite that the Steelers and Barys were separated by 23 points in the standings, they equally shared victories. One of them was achieved in extra time, the other three – albeit in regulation, but also with a difference of just one goal. It is also important that in three out of four cases, the team that allowed the first goal (or even two) won. Andrei Chibisov and Brendan Leipsic scored in three out of four games, while defenseman Linus Hultstrom consistently had one point in each game. Ten players scored for Barys, with Jakob Lilja tallying twice. Philipp Maillet is the top scorer so far this season, with five assists.
During the Olympic break, the Magnitogorsk franchise held two exhibitions against Team Belarus – first they lost 1:2 SO, then took revenge 5:2. Having returned to the Urals, they lost again after SO against Traktor (2:3), but have a chance to take revenge again – the return match is scheduled for Feb 25.
Barys is now preparing in Moscow. On Monday, they defeated Spartak, 7:2 (with Curtis Valk and Yegor Petukhov contributing with a double), then defeated Dynamo 3:4), with another exhibition game scheduled for Feb 24.
Metallurg finished the regular season on the top, while Barys was only seventeenth; so it’s not surprising that the Magnitogorsk players lie ahead in absolutely every statistical indicator. The difference is especially contrasting in even strength: the Steelers only need an average of 20:23 minutes to score a goal (best result in the league), while Barys allow a goal every 22.82 minutes (the worst figure among all playoff teams).
If we move from the team numbers to the individual stats, Barys has an ace up its sleeve – the trio of Lilja, Valk, and Nikita Mikhailis. They scored a total of 46 goals, but most importantly, 35 of them when all three were on the ice. No other team this season had such a productive combination. Nevertheless, this ace isn’t a trump card, as Metallurg can face them with Mikhail Pashnin and Artyom Minulin, one of the most reliable defensive pair in the regular season. Pashnin hasn’t played since the beginning of November because of an injury, but now he’s already recovered and has taken part in exhibition games in Minsk and Chelyabinsk.
As for Magnitogorsk’s most formidable trio, Semyon Koshelev, Josh Curry, and Andrei Chibisov, it shares eighth to tenth place with 21 combined goals. But at positions eleven through seventeen, Nikita Korostelev, Maxim Karpov, Philippe Maillet, and Nikolai Goldobin were present in different ways three times. Their 19+16+15 goals, combined with 21 scored by Curry, more than offset the performance of the Valk’s unit. However, Barys can’t boast of their secondary scoring: their second and third lines on efficiency are the same as the first, only with Roman Starchenko instead of Lilja in one case, and instead of Valk in the other one. And these units are ranked 24th and 76th, respectively.
Facing the regular season’s best team will be incredibly hard for Barys. However, as the history of their head-to-head encounters in September and January shows, this series won’t be an easy ride for Metallurg. Clearly, the playoffs are a different story. But the teams, the coaches and the players are the same as they were in September and January. By the way, Magnitka won the fall games, but Barys took its revenge in the next two games.
The series Metallurg – Barys plays on Mar 1, 3, 5, 7 and, if necessary, on Mar 9, 11, and 13.