Gagarin Cup Preview: Atlant vs. Salavat Yulaev

200px-atlant_moscow_oblast_logo  vs. Salavat_yulaev_ufa_logo_medium
Logos courtesy upload.wikimedia.org

 

Gagarin Cup (KHL) Finals:  Atlant Moscow Oblast vs. Salavat Yulaev Ufa


Comparison
Atlant Moscow Oblast Salavat Yulaev Ufa
Record (reg.) 21-11-6-16 (91 pts) 29-9-4-12 (109 pts)
Record (po) 12-7 12-4
GF/GA (reg.) 131 : 111 (+20) 206 : 140 (+66)
GF/GA (po) 56 : 39 (+17) 48 : 29 (+19)
SF/game (comb)
31.15 33.26
SA/game (comb)
27.10 29.81
PP (reg, po)
15.0% (17); 18.9 % (6) 22.5% (1); 15.4% (9)
PK (reg, po)
85.4% (6); 89.2% (3) 83.4% (11); 84.4% (7)
Scoring leader (reg) Sergei Mozyakin (27+34=61) Alexander Radulov (20+60=80)
Scoring leader (po) Sergei Mozyakin (7+10=17) Patrick Thoresen (2+13=15)
Top d-man (TOI - reg) Dmitry Bykov (21:38) Miroslav Blatak (20:00)
Top d-man (TOI - po)
Dmitry Bykov (23:44) Vitaly Proshkin (21:49)
Goalie SV% (reg)
Konstantin Barulin (92.5%) Erik Ersberg (92.6%)
Goalie SV% (po)
Konstantin Barulin (93.0%) Erik Ersberg (93.2%)

Much like the Elitserien Finals, we have a bit of an offense vs. defense match-up in this league Final.  While Ufa let their star top line of Alexander Radulov, Patrick Thoresen and Igor Grigorenko loose on the KHL's Western Conference, Mytischi played a more conservative style, relying on veterans such as former NHLers Jan Bulis, Oleg Petrov, and Jaroslav Obsut.  Just reaching the Finals is a testament to Atlant's disciplined style of play, as they had to knock off much more high profile teams from Yaroslavl and St. Petersburg to do so.  But while they did finish 8th in the league in points, they haven't seen the likes of Ufa, who finished 2nd. 

This series will be a challenge for the underdog, because unlike some of the other KHL teams, Ufa's top players are generally younger and in their prime.  Only Proshkin amongst regular blueliners is over 30, with the work being shared by Kirill Koltsov (28), Andrei Kuteikin (26), Miroslav Blatak (28), Maxim Kondratiev (28) and Dmitri Kalinin (30).  Oleg Tverdovsky hasn't played a lot in the playoffs to date.  Up front, while led by a fairly young top line (24-27), Ufa does have a lot of veterans in support roles:  Vyacheslav Kozlov, Viktor Kozlov, Vladimir Antipov, Sergei Zinovyev and Petr Schastlivy are all over 30.  In fact, the names of all their forwards are familiar to international and NHL fans:  Robert Nilsson, Alexander Svitov, Oleg Saprykin and Jakub Klepis round out the group, all former NHL players.

For Atlant, their veteran roster, with only one of their top six D under the age of 30 (and no top forwards under 30, either), this might be their one shot at a championship.  The team has never won either a Russian Superleague title or the Gagarin Cup, and for players like former NHLer Oleg Petrov, this is probably the last shot at the KHL's top prize.  The team got three extra days rest by winning their Conference Final in six games, and they probably needed to use it.  Atlant does have younger regulars on their roster, but they generally only play a few shifts per game, if that. 

The low event style of game for Atlant probably suits them well, but I don't know how they can manage to keep up against Ufa's speed, skill, and depth.  There is no advantage to be seen in goal, with Erik Ersberg and Konstantin Barulin posting almost identical numbers, and even in terms of recent playoff experience Ufa has them beat.  Luckily for Atlant, Ufa isn't that far away from the Moscow region, so travel shouldn't play a major role. 

I'm predicting that Ufa, winners of the last Superleague title back in 2008, will become the second team to win the Gagarin Cup, and will prevail in five games.  They have a seriously well built team that would honestly compete in the NHL.  They represent the potential of the league, while Atlant represents closer to the reality, as a team full of players who played themselves out of the NHL. 

Schedule:

  • Atlant @ Ufa, Friday Apr 8 (3:00 PM CET/10:00 PM EST)
  • Atlant @ Ufa, Sunday Apr 10 (1:00 PM CET/8:00 AM EST)
  • Ufa @ Atlant, Tuesday Apr 12 (5:30 PM CET/12:30 PM EST)
  • Ufa @ Atlant, Thursday Apr 14 (5:30 PM CET/12:30 PM EST)

Games 5-7 are as yet unscheduled, but every second day is the KHL standard, so expect Game 5 to be on Saturday, like an early start. 

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