The second round of the Gagarin Cup playoffs is upon us. With no major surprises yet, but the second round promises to be an exciting one. Which teams are likely to advance to the conference finals? That is a question I cannot answer but I will sure try my best to make the correct predictions.
The Western Conference:
With no surprise at all – CSKA Moscow is back and ready to fight for the cup after a sweep against Spartak Moscow in the first round. Many surely would give them an edge in any playoff series but this time around it’s really hard to predict what’s gonna happen as they will be up against a well-oiled Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. CSKA’s goalie Lars Johansson so far has been hands down the best player of his team in the playoffs. However, you cannot underestimate Loko and its own Eddie Pasquale who also is a goalie and has set the bar really high. Ultimately – this is going to come down to who has the better goalie. Loko’s Teemu Puulkinen and Yegor Korshov will be an offensive threat that CSKA’s defense will have to look out for.
Prediction: Games will be close but it feels like Lokomotiv has an edge and should have it sorted in six games.
Another army team – SKA is there to battle it out against Dynamo Moscow. Both teams making it this far isn’t a surprise but rather a common sighting. Both teams advanced with 4:1 victories in their respective series. Sure it wasn’t without noise for SKA, as the usual support from the guys wearing shirts with stripes. You have to be aware that this isn’t the old and powerful SKA anymore but they still got it. However, the Dynamo Moscow team will be coming in hot and they have the most powerful and dangerous first line in KHL, the trio of Shipachyov, Kagarlitsky and Jaskin will be ready to demonstrate what they’re made of.
Prediction: The stripes won’t have much of a say in these series but it won’t be easy for either side – Dynamo Moscow in seven.
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The Eastern Conference
The green derby is on once again – Salavat Julaev Ufa will be meeting with AkBars Kazan. While the Kazan side is no longer the defensive team we once knew – they have improved and shown that they’re a very good all-around team nowadays. They had a few struggles during the regular season but still managed to convincingly finish first in the East and sent home one of the best performers of the season – Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod home. Nigel Dawes, Stephane DaCosta are hungry for that Gagarin Cup. It’s a whole different story for Salavat Julaev Ufa, they struggled against Traktor right off the gate in the first round but as the games went on – found their games and moved into the second round. The Finn (Teemu Hartikainen and Markus Granlund) duo up-front will have to showcase what they’re capable of if they want a chance to make the conference finals and goalie Juha Metsola will need to be in top form.
Prediction: This might be a fast and boring or a long and painful series – either way, I’m going with AkBars in five.
Bob Hartley and Avangard Omsk sent Bill Peters and Avtomobilist Jekaterinburg packing in a beautiful manner – and it couldn’t be any other way – Kovalchuk stepped up when it was necessary and I’m sure not much will change in their second-round series against Metalurg Magnitogorsk who didn’t have the best first-round series, yet managed to use the awful goaltending from Barys Nur-Sultan. One player that really stood out for them is Nikolai Goldobin who currently is the goals and points leader in the playoffs, while team legend – Sergei Mozyakin is nowhere to be seen.
Prediction: Hartley can start preparing for the conference finals – Omsk will finish it in four.