KHL Playoff Preview – Round 1
The regular season has concluded in KHL and it’s now that time of the year, where we all throw ourselves into the most exciting time of the year for European fans – the KHL play-offs. This year, there are hopes of every exciting battle for every inch of the ice, with match-ups in the first round, we begin the preview of the post-season festivities.
CSKA Moscow vs Slovan Bratislava
Miracles happen, and a team that probably shouldn’t be in the playoff battle is there, clearly the low rated seed Slovan will be forced to elevate their game to a new level in order to compete against the grand that is CSKA. Milos Rziha returns to playoff contention in KHL leading his Slovakian team in a rough battle, and are unlikely to get past Alex Radulov, Stephan DaCosta and the young Ilya Sorokin, a goalie that has finished off the season 95.3 SV% and allowing less than two goals per game on average only at of 20. While Army side is set to go, Slovan will have to hope their leaders in person of goalie Michael Garnett step up after having a relatively quiet season opposed to what he’s done in the past, and Cam Baker, leagues best defensmen will have to be twice as good during every shift and battle, he has to keep putting up points the way he has during the regular season in order to maintain any kind of hope.
Helsinki Jokerit vs Torpedo Nizhninovgorod
The most exciting series in west during the first round battle, a skill, money,grit and two vocal coaches will go head-to-head to preserve a spot in conference semi-finals. Both teams have their leaders set to bite each others heads off it gets to that. Ashton Carter, Kaspars Daugavins and Linus Videl are the go to guys on the balanced roster of Torpedo, while Jokerit will throw Niko Kapanen, Brandon Kouzun and Peter Regin at the opposing team. I cannot go without mentioning the Latvian rivalry between Kaspars Daugavins and Artūrs Kulda who both were acquired by the teams during the regular season, both will want to earn themselves a new contract and playoffs are for sure a place to get that done.
Lokomotive Yaroslavl vs SKA St.Petersburgh
The money of SKA brought them on top last year and they are looking to use their super stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Voynov, two of the highest paid players in KHL for a repeated championship run. Lokomotive are ready to counter them with leagues most surprising players this season – Goalie Alexei Murgyn who shutout his opponents 13 times during the regular season. Loko is no longer the underdogs of the series, they have finally finished their rebuild after their hand being forced to do that after tragedy of their teams plane going down and losing everyone and everything. While SKA is struggling to put together a consistent stretch and heading into the round one after losing two in a row.
HK Sochi vs Dynamo Moscow
If anyone told me that Sochi would be in playoffs this year I would probably ask them to go see a doctor because none could see that coming, fairly quiet and sneaky accomplishment by a team that has struggled to pay their players will play the puck against a team with similar problems, a team that released their best player – Kaspars Daugavins, a team that fired their head coach as the season progressed and could even fold after the season is done. Both teams will play for the cup. Dynamo Moscow are clearly the more experienced side, two time champions will look to get their third tittle but it won’t be easy.
Avangard Omsk vs Nizhnekamsk Neftehimik
Avangard has picked them selves up after a few rough years following the departure of a legend – Jaromir Jagr, a goalie who’s arguably the best league has ever seen Karri Ramo now have come out on top in the east and will faceoff against a team that had to fight for the final spot in playoffs literally until the last minute. Omsk side is ready to activate Sobotka who’s now on the IR and Martin Erat is eager to get something going here, Himik side will roll out with Marek Kvapil as their force and corner stone to generate some offense, and Ivan Lisutin yet again awaiting to make some crazy saves in his weird but greatly improved stand-up style.
Metallurg Magnitagork vs Jekaterinburgh Avtomobilist
Series haven’t even started yet and won’t start until monday, but we already have a winner, none has a reason to even consider this not to be a sweep from Metallurg, they have everything a team could ask for, one of the best offensive crews in the league led by names of Sergei Mozyakin, Alex Semin, Chris Lee, Danis Zaripov will sure cause a headache for the opposing defense, and coach Andrei Razin must be insane because even he can see the problems ahead. Here’s a hope Jakub Kovar can bring out another stunning playoff perfomance, but will that be enough?
Admiral Vladivostok vs Sibir Novosibirsk
Grab your pillows and be ready to nap, this could turn out to be a long one, and it’s because of the travels and early morning games. Vladivostok is set to ride their top defensive pairing in looks of Jonathan Blum and Oskars Bartulis, both have played over 25 minutes a game during the regular season, and that number will increase during playoffs while Sibir’s go to guy will be a former NHL defensmen Andrei Meszaros. Who advances to the next round is up to both defensive cores, if you break, you are going home.
AkBars Kazan vs Salavat Julaev Ufa
O boy, o boy, KHL fans will be glued to their TV’s for this one, the green derby! Two time Gagarin Cup champions, last year’s 2nd place AkBars Kazan, will faceoff against another team that held the Gagarin cup tittle – UFA. Linus Omark against Justin Azevedo, Stanislav Galimov ready to shut the door for AkBars by the help against always fantastic defensive core, and Salavat ready to bring out their rather beautiful offense with Andreas Engqvist, Teemu Hartikainen among the others ready to light up the lamp. Outcome is unpredictable and should be surprising if these series go out before the game 7 is played.