The stage is set for the sixth version of the Kontinetal Hockey League playoffs. For many reasons, this season has been unequivocally different from the previous five, with the sixth being filled with surprises, unexpected teams making the play-offs, some of the all time leaders starting to show their age, all culminating in the fight for Gagarin Cup.
Though the regular season is in the books, the real season begins now, and there are still some burning questions: Can Dynamo Moscow clinch their 3rd Gagarin Cup? Can they set the KHL record with their third in as many seasons? Which match-ups should prove to be the most entertaining and hardest fought?
One of the most exciting battles in the 1st round of the KHL Playoffs will be Dynamo Moscow battling Lokomativ Yaroslav in West. After suffering through a monumental rebuilding phase following the shocking plane crash in 2011, Lokomativ have shown their quality. Having lost their entire team in the crash, they had to quit the KHL for one whole season. They came back a year removed not as strong as it was supposed to be in 2011/2012 season, but ready to show their best. To provide some stability, former coach Petr Vorbiev returned to team until the end of this season as head coach, though poor results saw him fired only a few games before end of the regular season. With the team looking to regain its identity, Dave King jumped in and had an immediate impact. In fact, his new team clinched a playoff spot as a result.
Coming in 8th in the Western standings, Lokomativ will have to battle against Gagarin Cup Champions, Dynamo Moscow. The Lokomativ team always has been known for having famous players from all around the world, and currently features Curtis Sanford (144 games in NHL), Staffan Kronwall (66 games in NHL), Vitali Vishnevski (554 games in NHL), Geoff Platt (45 games in NHL) and Janis Spruks (14 games in NHL).
As much as fans want a reason to hope Lokomativ can topple the Moscow giants, Dynamo Moscow have led the league for almost whole season, thereby earning another President’s Cup. The task is daunting, but considering the fact that in the history of the KHL, no team that has finished first at the end of regular season have won the championship, Oleg Znarok and his team will have to do their best rewrite history.
With all the experience Dynamo Moscow players and coaches have, it will be hard to stop them on their way to finals. The only team to have ever stopped Dynamo Moscow in the first round is Dinamo Riga, the team that Dynamo Moscow’s head coach played for during his own career from 1983-1991. As much as Dave King adds a wealth of experience for Lokomativ, his opponent on Moscow’s bench has just as much.
During his playing career, Oleg Znarok garnered a grand total of 219 points in 336 games played, accumulating 285 penalty minutes. After finishing his playing career, Znarok served as coach for junior national teams for several years. In 2006, he was named as head coach of team Latvia. In 2008, he became HC MVD Moscow Oblast’s coach and Dynamo Moscow when it merged with MVD. The team also benefits from the tutelage of long-time assistant Harijs Vītoliņš, who has been with Znarok for many years.
Like Lokomativ, Dynamo Moscow have their share of excellent talent including Leo Komarov (42 games in NHL) Martins Karsums (24 games in NHL) and Marek Kvapil (175 games in AHL).
The playoffs are sure to be filled with excitement, and it all starts with this fantastic match-up.
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