Tuesday, 25 July 2017

KHL - Gargarin Cup Final - SKA vs Metallurg Magnitogorsk

Game 1 - Metallurg v SKA 4-5 - Saturday, April 08, 2017

This year’s Gagarin Cup Final promised goals, action and controversy … and game one of the series delivered in style. A high-scoring, hard-fought clash between two evenly-matched rivals eventually ended in SKA’s favor, but only after each team saw a player ejected from the game in a true battle in Magnitogorsk.
Evgeny Dadonov, SKA’s leading scorer when it won the cup in 2015, was the hero with two markers – including the game winner – as the visitor edged a hugely competitive encounter by the odd goal in nine.
The winner came in the 57th minute thanks to a moment of individual magic. Metallurg sought to clear its lines and played the puck into center ice. Dadonov collected it on his own blue line, and decided to take matters into his own hands. Embarking on a solo rush, he powered through the neutral zone, evaded the attentions of the home D-men waiting on the blue line and advanced to beat Vasily Koshechkin up close. That took SKA to 5-3, the first time either team had enjoyed a two-goal advantage, and not even a late strike from Magnitogorsk’s Tomas Filippi could change the script.
It was the decisive moment in a game full of compelling incident. An evenly-matched opening period hinged – as many expected in this series – on a power play goal. In the 15th minute, Jan Kovar was called for hooking. It seemed a somewhat careless infringement, given that Magnitka was on the attack at the time, and the consequences were still more severe. SKA, enjoying its first opportunity to flex its formidable muscles on the power play, duly converted the opportunity. D-to-D play on the blue line saw Patrik Hersley feed Anton Belov for a slap shot; Koshechkin had the answer to that one, but could not stop Evgeny Ketov stuffing home the rebound.
Metallurg quickly got a chance to respond in kind when Ilya Kablukov was cited for tripping seconds after SKA took the lead. The visitor’s PK, though, has been the strongest in post-season, and made it hard for the home offense to camp down in the SKA end. Viktor Antipin had the best chance, given space to get off a shot from close range, but he couldn’t find the net.
The second stanza, though, saw Magnitka find its scoring touch. Two goals in 81 seconds at the start of the middle session turned the game around. Evgeny Timkin, whose two goals in Moscow decided the destiny of last year’s final, tied the game on 21:50 when he got his stick to Yaroslav Kosov’s low shot and deflected the puck beyond Igor Shestyorkin. Then, on 23:11, Sergei Mozyakin pounced on a defensive error to put the home team in front for the first time. If there’s any player in this league who shouldn’t be presented with the puck in front of goal, it’s Mozyakin; when Ilya Kovalchuk’s wayward pass offered him the gift, the captain wasted no time in unwrapping it.
But Metallurg soon ran into new problems. Oskar Osala was ejected from the game for a high hit on Nikolai Prokhorkin, and after successfully killing the major penalty, Magnitka’s tiring defense coughed up possession in center ice and Nikita Gusev’s immaculate feed set Dadonov away to tie the game. Then, just Metallurg, SKA produced a quick-fire second goal to regain the lead. Prokhorkin shrugged off the effects of Osala’s hit to wrestle a chance on the slot; the video official found no evidence of goalie interference and the Army Men were back in front.
The game continued to ebb and flow; now it was SKA’s turn to suffer an ejection as Kovalchuk was penalized for a hit to Kovar’s head. Now the home power play did its thing, pulling together a slick combination to give Antipin the chance to tie the scores just before the second intermission.
SKA survived the rest of that penalty at the start of the third, and play became more cagey as both teams recognized the high price of any further errors. But the visitor forged ahead once again on 55 minutes through Hersley. The Swedish defenseman continued his habit of grabbing clutch goals in this post season with a shot so powerful that it went through the goal netting. A check on the video confirmed the goal, and with five to play, SKA was back in front. Dadonov then added his decisive contribution and that late Filippi strike put Magnitka back in contention in the final seconds, but SKA stayed in front to claim the early initiative in this series.
For Metallurg, this is familiar territory: last season the Steelmen began the final series by conceding five goals and suffering defeat. But on that occasion, Magnitka faced a CSKA team tasting the Gagarin Cup Final, and all its attendant pressures, for the first time. 

Game 2 - Metallurg v SKA 5-3 - Monday, April 10, 2017

Vladislav Kaletnik isn’t one of the most feared goalscorers at Metallurg. The 22-year-old is still learning his trade, and his marker in a 5-3 victory over Kunlun Red Star back in February was his first ever playoff goal in the KHL. But his short-handed effort tonight, late in the second period, upstaged the more established marksmen in game two of the Gagarin Cup Final, leading Magnitka to a narrow victory and tying the series at 1-1. It all happened in the 38th minute. The home team, killing a penalty, saw a chance to counter attack. Oskar Osala led the rush, but failed to really get hold of his shot. Igor Shestyorkin pushed the puck away with his pads, only for Vladislav Kaletnik to race in and put away the rebound, snapping a 1-1 tie and punishing SKA for its failure to convert several earlier chances. Tommi Santala’s empty-net goal put the seal of Metallurg’s win, and sets up Wednesday’s trip to St. Petersburg nicely.
SKA, though, will be wondering how it failed to put the game beyond reach in the first period. The visitor dominated the shot count throughout, and were especially impressive in the opening stanza when it allowed just two attempts on its own net. However, Jan Kovar ensured that one of them counted, opening the scoring with a power play goal in the eighth minute, against the run of play.
SKA responded quickly. In the 12th minute, Vadim Shipachyov was allowed to lurk unmolested at the back door. Nikita Gusev found him, and the forward delivered a confident finish for the second power play goal of the game. Metallurg, angry at what it felt to be a harsh call against Sergei Mozyakin for the initial penalty, found itself a man down again almost immediately and was left clinging on desperately as the formidable SKA power play cruised through the gears once again. Shipachyov’s long pass picked out Gusev for a shot that flashed into the side netting. Ilya Kovalchuk pinged one off the crossbar with Vasily Koshechkin grasping at thin air. Anton Belov saw his shot hit the inside of the post and sit, tantalizingly, in the crease before Viktor Antipin reacted to sweep it away from danger. Like a prize fighter on the receiving end of a haymaker, Metallurg rocked and reeled – but refused to go down.
The balance of play shifted in the middle session. SKA was still creating the greater number of chances, but the difference was no longer overwhelming. Instead, Magnitka’s offense was beginning to ask some questions of its own. Mozyakin looked increasingly dangerous, Tomas Filippi had a couple of testing chances and, for the first time in the game, the teams were trading blows more or less evenly. A penalty on Evgeny Timkin seemed to give SKA the initiative, but Kaletnik’s goal took the game in the opposite direction.
Now Metallurg began to believe it could win, despite the fearsome fusillade that continued at the other end. Timkin came out of the sin bin and almost scored immediately. Mozyakin’s skill carved out a chance early in the third only for Patrik Hersley to overpower the forward at the last moment. But SKA was equally determined: Kovalchuk tested Koshechkin after a slip from Alexei Bereglazov and steadily the pressure grew as the final stanza wore on. Metallurg was pushed deeper and deeper, the puck rarely made it into SKA territory. Danis Zaripov was reduced to trying his luck from the red line as the intensity of the visiting offense grew with every shift. But a combination of bodies on the line in defense and alert goaltending from Koshechkin kept SKA at bay. The home goalie had 43 saves; the visiting offense clocked an incredible 103 attempts, of which 37 were blocked by the Metallurg defense. Off came Shestyorkin in a last bid to conjure something from the game, but the gamble failed. Timkin burst clear down the left flank, only to shoot wide of the empty net. The puck swung around the boards for Santala and the Finn – who began the day with the unwelcome news that he would be fined after the disciplinary panel handed him a 5+20 for an incident in Saturday’s game – ended the game by sending it back into the empty net.

Game 3 - SKA v Metallurg 2-1 OT - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hockey should be a simple game. Get pucks to the net, work the opposition goalie, and eventually, results will come. But this series is starting to suggest that the usual indicators may not always be reliable. After a game two loss in which it dominated the attacking play, SKA encountered similar problems here in St. Petersburg. The shots piled up, the opportunities were created … but the goals were hard to come by.
As the race for the Gagarin Cup marked Cosmonauts’ Day – the 56th anniversary of Yury Gagarin’s historic trip into orbit – the teams produced a game longer than the 65 minutes he spent in orbit around the Earth. Indeed, they threatened to rival the 108-minute journey of Vostok-1 from launch to landing before SKA finally grabbed its winner. By the time Evgeny Dadonov settled the outcome in the 93rd minute, the home team had fired in 60 shots on Vasily Koshechkin’s net. For the second game in a row, SKA managed 100 attempts on goal in total, but found Koshechkin and his colleagues in obdurate mood.
The winning goal was another triumph for the Dadonov-Shipachyov-Gusev line. Vadim Shipachyov fed Nikita Gusev in center ice and for a moment it seemed that Gusev might be about to do it all on his own as he tormented Metallurg’s tiring defense. Eventually he was steered away from the net, but not before he could get the puck to Dadonov with a clear shooting lane from the right. In came the shot, rattling around off post and bar enough to give Metallurg hope of an appeal to the video referee; victory was confirmed from the sidelines and another epic battle between these teams was over at last.
Much like Monday’s game, this one started with a surge towards Koshechkin in the Metallurg net. Gusev was a constant menace early on, buzzing around Magnitka’s zone and making things happen. It was his pass from beyond the goal line that teed up Anton Belov for a shot that Koshechkin barely managed to push past the far post; it was his rush that almost presented Shipachyov with a good look at Koshechkin. Metallurg hit penalty trouble, Gusev tested the goalie again late on. It was turning into a one-sided encounter.
For all SKA’s creativity, though, the opening goal came from a good old-fashioned hammer blow. Andrei Zubarev collected the puck in center ice, advanced to the red line and let fly with a long-range effort that kept low beneath the leap of a team-mate and surprised Koshechkin. For SKA, which twice conceded goals from the red line to Dynamo’s Andrei Kuteikin earlier in the playoffs, it was an unexpected way to take a deserved lead.
Metallurg, heavily outshot in the first half of the game, gradually began to pose more of a threat. A penalty on Yegor Yakovlev in the 30th minute helped to shift the momentum and the play was more even as the second period drew to a close. The equalizer came just six seconds before the intermission. Magnitka rolled forward and produced a slick bit of tic-tac-toe: Vladislav Kaletnik to Chris Lee, then a pass fizzing across the face of goal to Denis Kazionov at the back door.
The third period reverted to the initial script, with SKA having more of the play and Metallurg relying on counter attacks to keep Mikko Koskinen honest on his return to the starting line-up. The best chance to win it in regulation was also the last. Alexander Barabanov found himself all alone in front of the net, but his attempt to fire in a backhand was hurried and the puck went wide of the target. Overtime followed. The extras saw two big chances for Magnitka, both coming when a well-placed pass released a forward for a duel with Koskinen. The first opportunity, on 63 minutes, went to Vladislav Kaletnik, but Monday’s game winner shot wide of the mark. The next, 10 minutes later, fell to Sergei Mozyakin, but for once his scoring touch deserted him as Patrik Hersley got back to make the block. However, the bulk of the scoring chances were still coming at the other end, and ultimately that made the difference as Dadonov grabbed his third goal in three games to give SKA the initiative.

Game 4 - SKA v Metallurg 3-2 - Friday, April 14, 2017

A final-period fightback gave SKA its third victory in this series – and means Metallurg must win on home ice on Sunday if it is to continue its defense of the Gagarin Cup. For once, SKA’s stellar offense was subdued; instead Dinar Khafizullin was the unlikely hero, snaffling up the game-winning goal in the 53rd minute. The defenseman, who earlier tied the game at 1-1 with a similar finish, reacted quickly after Patrik Hersley’s slap shot smashed into Vasily Koshechkin’s helmet. The goalie lay sprawled on the ice as Khafizullin stuffed home the rebound from close range. But Metallurg’s disappointment was combined with a sense of grievance. First, the visiting team was unhappy that play continued with its goalie taken out of the game by a powerful blow to the head. And, moments earlier, Magnitka protested loudly at an interference call against Danis Zaripov after a collision on the edge of the SKA zone that abruptly halted a promising counter-attack for Jan Kovar.
Not that Khafizullin or SKA were greatly concerned about any protests. The defenseman’s second goal of the game was only his sixth game-winner in 377 career KHL outings and saw him double his career playoff tally in this clash. Previously the 28-year-old had scored the opener in game four of the Conference Final against Lokomotiv and claimed one goal in last year’s post season. Not for the first time, the big occasion calls for an unexpected hero to emerge and grab a vital marker, and Khafizullin joins Alexander Barabanov on SKA’s list of post season game winners with a modest track record of scoring goals.
The game started with a bang. Viktor Antipin put Metallurg in front after just 27 seconds, claiming the fastest ever goal in a Gagarin Cup Final game. SKA won the opening face-off, but little else went right for the host as Magnitka gained possession and Sergei Mozyakin threw a peach of a pass off the boards to the unmarked Antipin in the right-hand face-off circle. A backhand shot across the face of Mikko Koskinen found the top corner, and Metallurg had exactly the start it needed. But, much like games two and three of this series, SKA was only interested in offense. The game was played almost exclusively around Koshechkin’s net and in the first period alone the visiting goalie made 23 saves. That was enough to preserve Metallurg’s lead into the first intermission, but early in the middle stanza the home team got the breakthrough it needed to tie the game.
Defenseman Khafizullin was the scorer, claiming only his second post-season marker when he reacted fastest to the rebound after Vadim Shipachyov’s shot bounced back into play from Koshechkin’s pads. The goal was as much a tribute to SKA’s on-going pressure rather than any particularly brilliant play: a more alert Metallurg defense would surely not have allowed Khafizullin to get into such a dangerous position without far closer attention.
Encouraged, the home team continued to press. But it was Metallurg that struck the next blow with a devastating counter attack from Oskar Osala. The Finn showed great speed as he raced on to Tommi Santala’s pass and burned down the left with Alexander Khokhlachyov in his wake. Osala’s shot fizzed inside Koskinen’s near post, and Metallurg led once again.
The lead did not last long, though. Early in the final stanza, Andrei Zubarev tied the game at 2-2 – despite shattering his stick in the process. Nikolai Prokhorkin’s shot from the boards bounced a long way from goal off Koshechkin’s pads, and Zubarev got into a race with Metallurg’s Yaroslav Kosov to reach the rebound first. Zubarev’s slap shot connected with the puck and his opponent’s stick; the SKA forward’s own weapon snapped on impact, while the deflection sent his shot on an unpredictable trajectory that left the goalie out of position. The trajectory of this series, though, is starting to feel familiar. SKA’s previous Gagarin Cup triumph, two years ago, came in five games. Victory that time was sealed on the road in Kazan on a Sunday afternoon. This coming Sunday, SKA goes on the road to Magnitogorsk with the chance to repeat that success and join Metallurg, Ak Bars and Dynamo Moscow on two cup wins. However, two men in the SKA camp will also recall a famous occasion when a team blew a 3-1 lead in the Gagarin Cup final. Head coach Oleg Znarok and defenseman Anton Belov were on opposing sides in 2012 when Avangard looked to be in command of its series against Dynamo. But Belov suffered a suspension, the Omsk defense began to wobble, and Znarok led the Muscovites to a memorable victory thanks to a solitary Jakub Klepis goal in Siberia. The destiny of the cup in 2017 is yet to be decided.

Game 5 - Metallurg v SKA 3-5 - Sunday, April 16, 2017

SKA St. Petersburg wrapped up its second Gagarin Cup triumph in three seasons with a battling victory in game five in Magnitogorsk. Oleg Znarok’s team displayed the hallmarks of a true champion, battling back from 0-2 to wrest control of the game and complete the series in five. In contrast with SKA’s previous Gagarin Cup triumph in 2015, when the team went to Kazan and overwhelmed Ak Bars with a devastating first-period performance, this game was all about patience, belief and finding a way to retrieve a difficult situation.
Metallurg, knowing that only victory would prolong its defense of the title it won last season, produced a start that got the home fans believing that their hopes could be resurrected this Easter Sunday. In the third minute, Alexei Bereglazov’s shot was tipped beyond Mikko Koskinen by Sergei Mozyakin; only the post saved SKA. In the ninth minute, though, Oskar Osala would not be denied. He raced onto Tommi Santala’s pass, got away from Alexander Barabanov and shot from the face-off spot to beat Koskinen over the glove for a goal reminiscent of his marker in Metallurg’s 2-3 loss in Petersburg on Friday.
That was the only goal of the first period, but Viktor Antipin doubled the home lead early in the second when his shot from the left took a deflection off Yegor Rykov’s skate and beat Koskinen. In a series where two-goal leads have been scarce, Metallurg was looking good to win the game and take the action back to Petersburg.
The momentum changed fast. A penalty on Danis Zaripov saw SKA quickly convert its power play chance: Evgeny Dadonov rushed down the right, played the puck back into the center from the goalline and found Nikita Gusev perfectly placed to fire home a one-timer from between the hashmarks.
The fans who came to the game in referees’ uniforms with a SKA logo replacing the KHL’s crest would, no doubt, have continued to protest the perceived injustice of Zaripov’s latest penalty call. SKA, meanwhile, was inspired and went on to tie the game two minutes later. Alexander Barabanov got the goal, but it was all about Ilya Kovalchuk’s pass from behind the net. SKA’s captain picked up on a broken play in Metallurg’s zone and set off around the boards, but opted to pass early from the near post when he spotted Barabanov peeling into space right in front of Vasily Koshechkin’s net. Suddenly, the pattern of the game was transformed. Metallurg, having built itself a winning position, had to start afresh. SKA, facing a trip back to Petersburg, now saw its way clear to winning the cup on the night.
That pathway become even wider for the visitor in the 35th minute when Dadonov converted a two-on-two rush. Gusev fed Vadim Shipachyov, who brought the puck smoothly through center ice. Metallurg’s covering defensemen were caught out, unsure whether to block the shot or the pass, and ultimately failed to do either as Shipachyov’s perfectly-weighted pass picked out Dadonov for a one-timer that Koshechkin could do nothing with. Three goals in seven-and-a-half minutes had transformed the destiny of the game and the series.
Kovalchuk made it 4-2 just nine seconds into the final stanza. Patrik Hersley intercepted a pass out of Metallurg’s zone, advanced into an attacking position and fed Kovy for an emphatic finish. But Magnitka, rocked, was not done. Yaroslav Kosov made it 3-4 within a minute, collecting a loose puck after Artyom Zub collided with a linesman and advancing to find the bottom corner under pressure from Andrei Zubarev.
The final period was anxious; Metallurg fought hard, piling up the pressure and finishing with a 20-3 advantage on the shot count. But Koskinen was in unbeatable form, and kept his best save until last. With less than two minutes left, and Magnitka using six skaters, a rebound dropped for Osala on the slot. The Finn’s shot drew an instinctive reaction stop from his compatriot, and the puck rolled agonizingly alone the goal line before bouncing to safety off the post. That proved to be the last chance. Two time-outs later, SKA resumed, won a face-off at its own net and got the puck clear for Sergei Plotnikov to score an empty-netter. Koskinen still needed to complete his 42nd save of the night and deny Zaripov, but the 2017 Gagarin Cup had found its home.
SKA’s victory means that the Petersburg club is the fourth to lift the Gagarin Cup twice, joining Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Ak Bars and Dynamo Moscow. Head coach Znarok becomes the first coach to win it three times, having twice claimed the top prize in the capital. The 4-1 margin in the final series matches the best ever, twice achieved by Vyacheslav Bykov as head coach of Salavat Yulaev (2011) and SKA (2015). Like Bykov, Znarok has also now won the cup while combining his club duties with taking charge of Team Russia.

Not many teams could shrug off the absence of Stanley Cup-winning duo Slava Voynov and Pavel Datsyuk, but the power and depth of SKA’s roster means Oleg Znarok’s team has progressed serenely despite injuries to two star players. There’s scoring power all over the ice here, with any line capable of conjuring up a game-changing moment, and evidence of players getting hot at just the right time as we reach the sharp end of the season. Here’s a guide to the roster for the Western Conference representatives in the 2017 Gagarin Cup final.


In the regular season, Mikko Koskinen and youngster Igor Shestyorkin largely shared goaltending duties, with the 21-year-old Russian enjoying an impressive campaign. In post-season, though, the experienced Finn took top billing … until suffering an injury during the Conference Final against Lokomotiv. Koskinen had his critics, allowing Dynamo’s Andrei Kuteikin to beat him from the red line twice in successive games raised eyebrows. But he also produced some stunning stops, with a memorable stick save against Loko looking like a lock for the save of the season. Shestyorkin, meanwhile, proved a more than able deputy as he backstopped SKA to victory in game four of the Conference Final and, if required, will only develop from the experience of playing in the biggest games of the season.
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Mikko Koskinen


The absence of Slava Voynov, struggling with a long-term injury, hasn’t hampered SKA as much as might have been feared. Oleg Znarok’s team has been boosted by Patrik Hersley’s return to full fitness after a frustrating regular season and the Swede has responded with a career-best scoring haul in the playoffs. His 5+8 puts him level with Anton Belov on 13 points. Belov brings a wealth of experience of Gagarin Cup finals after playing at this stage for Avangard in 2012 and SKA in 2015. Elsewhere on the blue line, Maxim Chudinov is another high-profile absentee with the Russian international managing just one post-season outing, in a 2-3 overtime loss to Dynamo on March 8. There’s been plenty of uncompromising, stay-at-home defense work from Dinar Khafizullin, Yegor Yakovlev, Andrei Zubarev and Roman Rukavishnikov.
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Maxim Chudinov


With Pavel Datsyuk injured, it’s fallen to the Shipachyov-Dadonov-Gusev line to pick up the slack … and the trio has responded in fine style. With 14 points apiece in the playoffs, this has been by far and away the deadliest line on SKA’s roster, and on the power play it has been especially impressive. They have produced eight goals between them on the PP, and contributed assists on further scores from Hersley and Belov as SKA repeatedly punishes its opponents for any indiscipline. The sudden upswing in production from Jarno Koskiranta has been another boon. The Finn achieved a modest 12+6=18 in 57 regular-season games, but quickly heated up in the playoffs to produce 6+4=10 in 13 appearances. Winning teams often rely on a player hitting form at the right time, and Koskiranta could be the man to do that for SKA in this run.
Scoring goes deep: Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeny Ketov have five goals each, and even Alexander Barabanov ended a 38-game goal drought to snatch an overtime winner against Lokomotiv.
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Pavel Datsyuk

Special teams

That Shipachyov line has been impressive on the power play, helping SKA to 20 goals with a man advantage. That’s the joint top return in this year’s playoffs, matched only by Grand Final opponent Metallurg. But SKA also has a miserly PK to call upon, killing 93.3% of its penalties and allowing just three goals when playing at reduced strength. Another important detail: SKA has drawn noticeably more penalties than everyone else, with 73 opportunities to play with a man advantage. With Magnitka allowing 11 goals on its PK, that could prove a decisive factor in the coming series.


Oleg Znarok is behind the bench for his fourth Gagarin Cup Final. Victory would make him the first man to lift the cup three teams, and only the second to do it with two different clubs. More impressively, though, he’s a rare example of a coach who can successfully adapt his style to the roster at his disposal. In 2010, for his first tilt at the title, he took a decidedly non-stellar MVD roster to within one game of glory based on tactics that promoted team-work, resilience and an element of surprise. At Dynamo Moscow, where he won back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013, he took many of those players and melded them into a winning team with greater scope for individual flair; don’t forget his second championship season found space for the unique talents of Alexander Ovechkin during the NHL lock-out. Then, at Team Russia and now at SKA, Znarok has shown that he can work with the biggest names and the most extravagant talents in the Russian game. If it takes one skill set to win as an underdog, it’s a different matter to triumph as a favorite. Znarok has shown he can present a formidable team in any circumstances.
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Oleg Znarok

This year’s Gagarin Cup Final isn’t just a head-to-head between the top teams of the current season. Instead, it pits the two strongest teams of the last three seasons against one another for the first time in playoff action. Defending champion Metallurg takes on 2015 winner SKA in a showdown that could give either side the right to claim a measure of lasting dominance over the KHL. So let’s take a look at how those trophies were won as the teams prepare to do battle on Saturday.

Shocking the favorite, establishing a dynasty

Metallurg Magnitogorsk vs CSKA, 2016
One year later, it’s easy to forget how many people rated CSKA as cast-iron favorite for this series. Dmitry Kvartalnov’s team had topped the regular season standings for the second year running before powering into its first ever Gagarin Cup final, dropping a solitary game along the way. A stacked roster, led by the talents of Alexander Radulov and Nikita Zaitsev, was in imperious form and a crushing sweep of SKA in the Western Conference Final suggested that this was the Muscovites’ year; hockey’s most titled club seemed on the brink of another entry on the honors board. Metallurg, by contrast, had a difficult regular season. Mike Keenan was moved upstairs to an advisory role part way through the campaign; Ilya Vorobyov got his first shot at the head coach’s role but expectations were low. A 1-5 loss in Moscow in the opening game of the final series reinforced the belief that Magnitka would merely make up the numbers. That game was a one-off, though. The next five games in the series were settled by a single goal. Three of them went to overtime. A game-winning performance from Sergei Mozyakin in game five earned Magnitka a 2-1 victory in the capital and gave Metallurg a 3-2 lead to take back home. Suddenly, Vorobyov was in touching distance of winning the cup after half a season in charge. Too soon. CSKA responded with a 3-2 OT success of its own, with the unheralded Mikhail Yunkov getting his first playoff goals of the season to set up a game seven decider. And, back in Moscow, Evgeny Timkin emerged as the key man. He scored twice, opening the scoring and adding an empty-net clincher, as Metallurg won 3-1 to lift the cup again. For the former Avangard and Vityaz man, those were the first playoff goals of his KHL career; for Metallurg, they were the tickets to a second cup win in three seasons. Now, in the Southern Urals, fans could begin to talk about a dynasty among the Steelmen as Vorobyov became the youngest coach to win the title.
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A long-awaited triumph as Petersburg finally lifts the cup

SKA vs Ak Bars, 2015
Winning the Gagarin Cup was a long-held dream in St. Petersburg. Although SKA had represented the city since 1946, it had never managed to bring home a national championship in Soviet or post-Soviet times. The 2015 Gagarin Cup Final against Ak Bars was a chance to re-write history. It was also a reflection of the changing order in Russian hockey. SKA, with its big-money connections to Gazprom, could be viewed as a brash, big-spending newcomer at the top table; Ak Bars, now an established powerhouse, had gone through that process more than a decade earlier when the balance of power in the game moved decisively away from big-city domination and encompassed a wide range of newly oil-rich regions eager to turn petrodollars into sporting prowess. For some, at least, the duel carried a socio-economic resonance beyond the action on the ice. The match-up also pitted two great coaches against one another. SKA’s Vyacheslav Bykov was back in KHL action for the first time since leaving Salavat Yulaev after leading the Ufa team to the 2011 Gagarin Cup. Victory here would make him the first coach to win the prize with two clubs. He faced Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who was bidding to become the first coach to claim three Gagarin Cups, just a year after leaving his role with Team Russia after failing to win an Olympic medal. Surprisingly, though, the series was all over in five games. SKA proved irresistible from the start, with the Shipachyov-Dadonov-Panarin axis in unstoppable form. Evgeny Dadonov finished with 15 goals, a playoff record. Artemy Panarin signed off on a move to the NHL – one year later, back in Russia at the World Championship, his old line-mates would tease him about turning into an American player. Vadim Shipachyov, as in the current campaign, made it all tick. There were big post-season contributions from Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Thoresen; the former finally claimed the hardware that had eluded him in New Jersey, the latter, reunited with Bykov, finished his career with a second Gagarin Cup triumph. The final game, in Kazan, was something of a masterclass. Ak Bars, down 1-3 in the series, talked boldly of fighting to the last; SKA scored after 73 seconds on a Jimmie Eriksson breakaway, led 4-0 at the first intermission and romped to a crushing 6-1 victory. St. Petersburg, at last, had a cup to celebrate.
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