Before the start of the playoffs’ second round, presents a preview of the Gagarin Cup’s second-round pairings. Today the talk is about the clash between SKA and Spartak.

In the early days of the Kontinental Hockey League, SKA and Spartak exchanged playoff series victories. Spartak won 3-0 in the 2008-2009 season, while two years later SKA took revenge 4-0. The next meeting in the Gagarin Cup had to wait until 2019, when SKA took over 4-2. Curiously enough, the teams always met in the first round.

If getting into the second round is customary for SKA, it’s been a long time since Spartak played in the conference semifinals. The last time the Red-and-Whites made the playoffs after the first round was in 2009-2010. Spartak defeated Dynamo Moscow (3-1), then faced Lokomotiv (2-4).

This season, the sides met three times, with two SKA victories (2:0, 4:2) and one win for Spartak (2:1 OT).

It’s hard to gauge Spartak’s current condition. They played their last official game more than two months ago, on Jan 9. Back then, Spartak played an away game against Admiral. The Moscow side then took part only in a few exhibitions, and advanced to the second round automatically, after Jokerit’s withdrawal from the playoffs.

So far, the last game in which Spartak participated was an exhibition against the VHL’s Khimik Voskresensk, with Spartak defeating the Moscow region team with a 5:2 score. Alexander Khokhlachyov and Andrei Loktionov, who finally recovered from his regular-season injury, potted a double, and Ilya Baranov had another goal.

SKA had a good first round of the playoffs. The Army team overcame Dinamo Minsk (4:0) without much trouble – Roman Rotenberg’s squad crushed their opponent in the first game and then went on to win three more times, taking advantage of their skill advantage.

In their series against Spartak, the St. Petersburg club would be a favorite thanks to top-notch players like Andrei Kuzmenko and Nikita Gusev. Both forwards produced eight points (5+3 and 3+5, respectively) in their four playoff games and were among the most important players in their showdown with Minsk. SKA’s offensive players aren’t the only hazards for their opponents. Defenseman Mikko Lehtonen had even more shots than Kuzmenko in the series against Minsk, and finished the series with a goal and four helpers.

Spartak has enough heroes of its own. Jori Lehtera was Spartak’s most productive player (10+29 in 45 games) in this year’s regular season. Alexander Khokhlachyov (16+19 in 46 games) and fan favorite Sergey Shirokov (10+19 in 45) are not far behind the Finn in points scored. And Alexander Nikishin is also worth mentioning. The silver medalist at the recent Beijing Olympic Games is good both on offense and on the power play – his offensive rushes and excellent long-range shots have caused havoc among many KHL teams this season.

Spartak had trouble on the power play throughout the season, converting just 14.6 percent of their attempts, but the Red-and-Whites looked good on the penalty killing. Boris Mironov’s squad neutralized 83.8% of their opponent’s attempts on the season, one-tenth of a percent better than SKA during the regular season and more than five points better than them in the playoffs (78.6%). SKA took good advantage of their opponent’s penalties in the regular season (22.2%) and improved even more in the playoffs, if looking at the sheer numbers – seven goals and 26.9%.

In addition, Spartak’s coaching staff and players shouldn’t forget about SKA’s all-around performance. The St. Petersburg side finished fourth in the regular season in goals scored (146) and in the first round of the playoffs they had the best figures with 4.5 goals per game.

The series will be an exciting one for many reasons. Can Spartak quickly get into a tough playoff rhythm after a long break? What will Boris Mironov’s KHL playoff debut as head coach be like? Can SKA extend their winning streak in the postseason? Moscow or St. Petersburg? We’ll find out very soon!

The series SKA – Spartak plays on Mar 18, 20, 22, 24, and, if necessary, 26, 28, and 30.

Related clubs

SKA (Saint Petersburg) SKA (Saint Petersburg)
Spartak (Moscow) Spartak (Moscow)
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