In 2016, Metallurg won the Gagarin Cup, defeating CSKA in a breathtaking seven-game series. In 2022, the rivals will meet again in the grand finals – this will be the second time in the KHL history that a “remake” of the Gagarin Cup finals has taken place. Previously, CSKA and Avangard met twice in the final (2019, 2021), and now we will see a second clash of CSKA and Metallurg.
CSKA advanced to the finals after a seven-game battle against SKA. That series was full of unexpected plot twists and challenges for the Muscovites, who came to the Western final undefeated. The 4-0 vs. Lokomotiv and 4-0 vs. Dynamo Moscow weren’t exactly two easy rides, but still, CSKA remained unscathed. In the series against St. Petersburg, however, that invincibility came to an end. The Red-and-Blues even found themselves on the precipice, being down 2-3 in the series, but at the crucial moment, CSKA pulled themselves together and played two excellent games, leaving their opponent with nothing left.
The key to CSKA’s success in the decisive games was the play of team leaders Mikhail Grigorenko and Sergei Plotnikov, but the third line, led by one of the league’s most experienced players, Alexander Popov, were the main heroes of the Western Conference Finals. Popov scored three times himself in seven games, while his partners Maksim Sorkin and Andrei Svetlakov added another handful (four and two, respectively) to CSKA’s grand total.
Metallurg began their trek to the final with an unexpected loss to Barys, but then Magnitogorsk pulled themselves together, outplayed their opponent and broke into a seven-game clash against Avangard. The efficient, bright and, to a good extent, crazy series ended with a blowout win by Metallurg in game seven, with Vasily Koshechkin, of course, being the main hero. Metallurg defeated Traktor in the Eastern Conference finals – the South Urals derby was a short-lived affair. The Chelyabinsk team fought back fiercely, but still, they succumbed to their opponent’s efficient system of play and Magnitka found itself one step ahead time after time.
Metallurg is a creative team forward, and its players can score (three Metallurg players in the top 5 playoff scorers before the finals, six in the top 10). It’s hard to pick one leading player, or a line to lead the team. Nikolai Goldobin? Phillippe Maillet? Andrei Chibisov? That said, Ilya Vorobyov’s team is also awesome defensively; its defenders play just fine. For example, the team’s captain Yegor Yakovlev leads the team in the +/- ratings, and for the entire playoffs he has earned only one minus in his stat sheet.
Both Metallurg and CSKA had excellent playoff performances by their goalies. Vasily Koshechkin and Ivan Fedotov are peerless this spring and both could be the key to a win for their respective teams. Curiously enough, in the playoffs each of them managed to record a rare achievement: a shutout in the seventh game of the series.
In general, two powerful and exciting teams will clash in the finals. It can be said that both teams play systemic hockey, but they are different systems, not similar to each other at all. Naturally, the systems are imposed by the teams’ head coaches. Their confrontation will be interesting not only in terms of game aspects, but also in terms of the experienced specialist vs. a debutant motif. This was the case also in the 2016 Gagarin Cup finals, when Ilya Vorobyov led Metallurg to the finals as a debutant and played there against Dmitry Kvartalnov’s CSKA. Today, Vorobyov has plenty of experience as a head coach, but on the other side of the trench will be Sergei Fedorov, spending his first season as a head coach in his career. And it’s also impossible not to remember that in Fedorov’s career as a player, his last team was Magnitka.
In 2016, the debutant coach won. What will happen this time?
The Gagarin Cup final series plays Apr 18, 20, 22, 24, and, if necessary, 26, 28, and 30.