The KHL regular season ends on Sunday, so playoff races are the name of the game right now. Here are the prime battles:
Western Conference, final two playoff spots: Riga, Minsk, Nizhny Novgorod
Dinamo Riga lost in OT Tuesday to Salavat Yulaev Ufa, who are currently in a battle for first overall in the league. Riga now has 75 points on the year, and their magic number is now 2 with two games left to play. They currently sit seventh in the West. Upcoming: Metallurg Magnitogorsk (home, Feb 18), Traktor Chelyabinsk (home, Feb 20).
Dynamo Minsk beat Traktor Chelyabinsk 4-2 at home yesterday, which was important because it was their easiest game this week. Minsk leapfrogs into eighth with the win, holding a narrow one point advantage, with 71 points with two games to play. Upcoming: Salavat Yulaev Ufa (home, Feb 18), Metallurg Magnitogorsk (home, Feb 20).
Ceding the eight seed for the day was Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, who lost at home 5-3 to Barys Astana, a team of similar rank in the East. With 70 points and two games to play, this one was a tough one to drop, as they face a similarly tougher schedule of Eastern Conference teams to finish the year at home. They do currently have one more regulation win than Minsk, which might come in handy as a tiebreaker. Upcoming: Avangard Omsk (home, Feb. 18), HC Yurga (Feb. 20).
Bobrov Division Champion: UHC Dynamo vs. SKA St. Petersburg
UHC Dynamo Moscow beat up on the KHL's worst team, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, in front of a hometown crowd of only 3500 on Tuesday by a score of 8-1. Those crowds will pick up once the playoff action hits, and the competition gets tougher. Dynamo is currently tied for the division lead with SKA St. Petersburg at 91 points, but hold the tiebreak due to regulation wins. SKA beat Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg yesterday 3-2 to keep pace. Again, both teams close out the year with home games against Eastern teams in a weird scheduling decision. Dynamo has the easier schedule. Upcoming (Dynamo): Amur Khabarovsk (Feb 18), Sibir Novosibirsk (Feb 20). Upcoming (SKA): Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (Feb 18), Ak Bars Kazan (Feb 20).
Kharlamov Division Champion: Ak Bars Kazan vs. Metallurg Magnitogorsk
The back-to-back Gagarin Cup Champions Ak Bars Kazan haven't quite closed out their division title quite yet, which would give them the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Severstal Cheropovets beat Kazan 2-1 on Tuesday, giving Metallurg Magnitogorsk a chance to close the gap, which they partially did in a 4-3 shootout win over lowly CSKA Moscow. Magnitogorsk sits four points back with two games to play, as a regulation win for Kazan against either Spartak Moscow (Feb 18) or SKA St. Petersburg (Feb 20) would do the trick. Magnitogorsk plays Dinamo Riga (Feb 18) and Dynamo Minsk (Feb 20).
Continental Cup/Chernyshev Division Champion: Avangard Omsk vs. Salavat Yulaev Ufa
This is probably just a formality for Omsk, who at 112 points sit a full six points ahead of Ufa with two games to play. It would take a 6-0 points advantage over the final two games for Ufa to surpass Omsk, but it's still a possibility. Omsk would automatically participate in next year's Champions Hockey League, that is if that league gets off the ground at all.
I'll have a lot more once the regular season wraps up. So far, only Lokomotiv Yaroslavl has been crowned a division champion (Tarasov Division), and Metallurg Novokuznetsk has clinched last place. Pretty much every other position is still undecided with two full slates of games this weekend, although we do know which eight teams are going to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.