Building upon a 2007-2008 regular season in which he was named the Russian Super League’s best player, Alexei Morozov led Ak Bars Kazan to within two victories of the RSL Finals, only to see his team ousted by the RSL’s regular season champion, Salavat Yulayev Ufa, three games to one in the playoff semi-finals. The series saw the teams split the first two games, with Ufa triumphing 3-0 in Game 1 and Ak Bars rebounding for a 2-1 victory in Game 2. Ufa took Game 3 4-3, setting the stage for a dramatic elimination game. The teams were tied at 2-2 going into the third period, and Ufa scored an early third period goal to take a 3-2 lead. With the clock ticking on Ak Bars’ season, Alexei Medvedev tallied with just four minutes remaining to tie the score at 3-3. Ak Bars’ jubilation was ephemeral, however, as Ufa’s Alexei Tereshenko scored his first goal of the series and fourth of the tournament just one minute into overtime to end Ak Bars’ season.
Despite the disheartening ouster, Morozov continued his torrid play in the post-season, registering 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in only 10 games played. He tied for the team lead in playoff scoring, only equaled by his explosive linemate Sergei Zinovjev, who posted identical post-season statistics. Since 2005-2006, Morozov has compiled remarkable playoff numbers, and as the team’s captain, has clearly elevated his game when the stakes are at their highest. In 36 playoff games, Morozov has amassed a whopping 54 points (19 goals, 35 assists), good for an average of 1.5 points per game. With its 3-1 series victory, Salavat Yulayev will face-off against 5th place Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the RSL Finals, which commences on April 3. Lokomotiv is fresh off a 3-0 sweep of Magnitogorsk Metallurg in their semi-finals matchup. While Ufa, losers of only 15 games in 57 regular season matches, is the favorite, they will have to be at their offensive best to beat Lokomotiv’s young netminder Semen Varlamov. Varlamov, a 2006 first round pick of the Washington Capitals, is widely considered one of the top goaltending prospects in the world and has had a stellar playoffs so far. Both finalists boast dynamic offensive talents, which should make for an entertaining series.
Ufa’s attack is led by the speedy Alexander Perezhogin, a former first round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, while Lokomotiv’s offense is paced by Alexei Yashin, who has registered 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists) in 10 playoff games. Certain players raised their level of performance to help their teams advance to the Finals. In particular, Lokomotiv’s sweep was aided by the breakout of 19 year-old Alexander Vasyunov. Vasyunov, who had no points in 7 games coming into Lokomotiv’s series against Metallurg, recorded the game-winning goal in each of the first two tilts of the series, with his second coming with only 6 minutes to play in the third period of Game 2. Similarly, with Ufa tied at one game a piece with Ak Bars, Ufa defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky potted his first two goals of the playoffs in Ufa’s Game 3, 4-3 victory. Will Tverdovsky’s Stanley Cup playoff experience help Lokomotiv bring the championship home to Yaroslavl, or will Lokomotiv’s magical post-season run fall short against mighty Ufa? We will begin to find out today.