The KHL season is at its final stage as CSKA Moscow and Metallurg Magnitogorsk will battle to decide the 2016 Gagarin Cup championship. Fans will now have to wait almost a week as both the Conference Finals ended unexpectedly early and the first faceoff will be on April 7th. CSKA won the KHL Regular Season, therefore will play the first couple of games at home, in Moscow.
The Red Army, coached by the former Boston Bruins forward Dmitry Kvartalnov, are at their first Gagarin Cup finals. It was very close last year, when they lost 4-3 in the Western Conference finals to the then-final-winner SKA St. Petersburg, throwing away a 3-0 lead in the series. It will be the second Gagarin Cup finals appearance for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, as they won the Gagarin Cup in 2014 in a hard-fought series against then-folded HC Lev Prague. The team was then coached by Iron Mike Keenan, who was fired earlier this season and replaced by his assistant Ilya Vorobyov.
CSKA, who plays in the old CSKA Ice Palace and refused to move for the Gagarin Cup finals to a bigger arena, defeated HC Slovan Bratislava and Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in the first two playoff rounds. Metallurg Magnitogorsk, instead, got past Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg, Avangard Omsk, and Salavat Yulaev Ufa. CSKA lost only one playoff game thus far, therefore may be a little less tired, but the week of pause will probably balance things out in this respect. The team will play in the modern Arena Metallurg, with a capacity of 7,500 seats.
Both teams have many high-level players in their roster. CSKA will feature Alexander Radulov, defenseman Nikita Zaitsev who is rumored to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer, and goalie Ilya Sorokin, who is the top young goalie in Russia and one of the hottest goalie prospects in the world. Metallurg will be no less in the crease, with KHL veteran Vasili Koshechkin and another hot goalie prospect in Ilya Samsonov. The two most prominent players for them will be Sergei Mozyakin, who is as usual on top of the top-scorers, and Danis Zaripov. The series will feature other former NHL players and prospects as Alexander Semin, Kirill Petrov, Wojtech Wolski and others.
To add intrigue to the series, the two teams play a different style. CSKA plays a more vertical, North American game trying to be physical on the boards and getting the ball rolling in the offensive zone dumping the puck above the average for Russian teams, while Metallurg plays a more classic, Russian combination game, especially with the top line of Mozyakin, Zaripov, and Czech center Jan Kovar. The double OT GWG of the last Western Conference game is a good example:
The first game will be held in Moscow on April 7th, and the series will be a classic best-of-seven with games played every other day. Gagarin Cup finals typically last at least six games.
A professional hockey writer and translator. Loves Russian culture, language, and hockey. Reachable on twitter @AlexSerenRosso