The Army Series have turned into a war! Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov are two of the best players currently in Europe and now their teams are facing off in the KHL’s conference finals, with AkBars waiting for their opponent in the finals.
SKA vs. CSKA – Who Will Advance to the Finals?
The series started with SKA struggling mightily, as whatever they did was never enough to beat the Moscow team to make them question their super season. CSKA has been perfect all year, never losing two in a row in regulation this season. CSKA had a huge 3-0 advantage to start the series and all they had to do was seal the deal when suddenly something happened: SKA won two in a row, forcing CSKA to their first two game losing streak this season. With the series at 3-2 and game six ready go, nobody expected SKA to still be playing hockey, but they managed to force a sudden death game seven to determine the winner of the army derby. The KHL has never seen a L.A. Kings type of comeback and now SKA is hotter than ever before. Coach Vyacheslav Bykov has geared his team up and turned the series into a war.
Who are the heroes of these series? I can list three of them, goaltenders Mikko Koskinen and Stanislav Galimov, and of course Radulov, so I decided to analyse their games and here is what I got:
Koskinen (SKA) :
Games 1-3: 2.27 GAA, .916 SV%, 84 saves
Games 4-6: 1.27 GAA, .941 SV%, 67 saves
Series: 1.18 GAA, .928 SV%, 151 saves
Games 1-3: 0.72 GAA, .973 SV%, 97 saves
Games 4-6: 8.69 GAA, .650 SV%, 18 saves
Series: 4.73 GAA, .812 SV%, 115 saves
Galimov was pulled in game four after playing 32 minutes and 43 seconds, allowing four goals against on just 20 shots on goal, and Belarussian goalie Kevin LaLande had to takeover and show that he can play. LaLande couldn’t earn himself a start in game five though, where Galimov was pulled not once, but twice after allowing two goals on four shots, playing only 11 minutes and 32 seconds.
Would you say CSKA’s goaltending has dropped? No, not at all, in fact CSKA has been the best offensive team all season long, often sacrificing their goalies, but in the playoffs they were set to play a little bit of defensive hockey. Unfortunately, it’s something they are certainly not very good at, considering how Radulov and Stephane DaCosta lead the offense, there is really no one to stay back and keep their own end safe from the likes of Kovalchuk.
Radulov is being himself, leading the playoffs in scoring with 20 points (7 goals, 13 assists) in 15 games. He was one of the main reasons why CSKA made it 3-0 in the series, but then Radulov just disappeared and with it the constructively good game that the whole team showed when they took his lead. They pushed SKA close to the edge, which has now turned into a huge hill with Kovalchuk and his army defending their positions.
The fight for the finals will continue in another entertaining game in a few days, but there is another important thing that is really valuable for players like Kovalchuk and Radulov – the MVP trophy. Both have showed leadership, Kovalchuk has even shown off his childish attitude, slashing Radulov and escaping another suspension as the KHL somehow manages to forget that Kovalchuk is just another player who plays by the same rules as others. The belief is that whoever pulls his team together and makes it to finals will likely pick up the post-season MVP title.
Are there no other candidates in the other conference you ask? Tehnically there are – former New York Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson has been outstanding in the playoffs, almost beating the KHL’s shutout record, but when has the KHL let any non-Russian win any title? So, scratch that, grab your car seats and buckle up because we are in for a wild ride. I can guarantee game seven will be as good as the entire series has been so far, with high emotions, a battle of goalies and the captain factor all coming into play. And no doubt, this series that everyone in the KHL has been waiting for since day one will end in heartbreak.