Metallurg, SKA St. Petersburg Set For High-Powered KHL Finals Clash
SKA St. Petersburg, the Western Conference winner, is a team that's loaded with NHL talent and will be looking to reclaim the league title it previously won in 2015.
The series has the potential to be one of the best finals in the KHL's nine-year history.
Measuring MetallurgMetallurg boasts the KHL's all-time leading scorer in Sergei Mozyakin and third all-time leading scorer, Danis Zaripov. Only Alexander Radulov -- who left CSKA Moscow this past summer to join the NHL's Montreal Canadiens -- separates them on the all-time scoring list.
Mozyakin, 36, was dominant in 2016-17, setting a new KHL record for most goals (48) and points (85) in a single season. Mozyakin's role was expanded after the team lost Wojtek Wolski to a broken neck.
Wolski finished fourth on the team in scoring last season with 18 goals and 47 points in 54 games. He had five goals and 10 points in 19 games before the injury.
Chris Lee leads Metallurg on the back end. The Canadian recorded 14 goals and 51 assists, totaling 65 points and setting a new KHL record for single-season defensive scoring. The 36-year-old is in his fourth season in the KHL, all with Metallurg.
The historical years posted by Mozyakin and Lee helped Metallurg to finish first in the Eastern Conference.
During the playoffs, their teammates have increased their play, as well. Mozyakin, Zaripov, and Jan Kovar all have more than 20 points in 13 playoff games. Zaripov has recorded 15 goals through three rounds so far this postseason.
SKA Up CloseAfter Mozyakin, SKA players round out the rest of the league's top five scorers: Ilya Kovalchuk (78 points), Vadim Shipachyov (76 pts.), Nikita Gusev (71 pts.), and Evgeny Dadonov (66 pts.).
SKA added to its firepower by signing NHL veteran Pavel Datsyuk this summer. While Datsyuk's injuries limited him to just 12 goals and 34 points in 44 games, the Magic Man's presence and two-way play is enough to intimidate opponents, alone.
With two Stanley Cups on his resume and a handful of other NHL awards, Datsyuk's leadership and ability to rise to the occasion can't be overlooked. He has three goals and eight points in seven playoff games.
Defenseman Slava Voynov will be SKA's answer to Lee. He finished third in defensive points (37) and plays a mean, physical game that most KHL players don't possess. He also has two Stanley Cups on his resume, both won with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014.
Kovalchuk has had a slow postseason, managing just five goals and six points through 13 games. Once an NHL superstar, Kovalchuk is highly talented and is always a threat in the offensive zone.
SKA's successful playoff run has been largely a "score by committee" scenario. Gusev, Dadonov, Shipachyov, Patrik Hersley, and Anton Belov have all scored at a point-per-game pace or higher during the playoffs.
Head-to-Head PlayMetallurg (41-15-4) and SKA (46-10-4) met twice during the regular season, with each team taking a victory.
On August 27, SKA bested Metallurg with three goals in the third period. Alexander Barabanov scored two goals and Voynov added a couple of assists in the 4-2 win.
The two met again on February 3. Lee set up Mozyakin three times in the third for a hat trick that helped send the game into overtime, but extra time wasn't enough. The game went to a seven-round shootout, where Zaripov scored on all three of his attempts to end the game.
During the playoffs, each team lost just once, winning one series in five games and sweeping two series to reach the finals. The two powerhouses are as evenly matched as they come, and the series is definitely up in the air.
However, SKA holds a slight advantage in depth, youth, and speed. Even with Metallurg's home-ice advantage, SKA is too good to beat four times out of seven.
My prediction: SKA will end it in six games for the championship.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.