SKA Eyes Playoffs After Continental Win

SKA Eyes Playoffs After Continental Win

As regular season champions, SKA will have a home ice advantage throughout the playoffs, which start Feb. 20.

Published: February 6, 2013 (Issue # 1745)

SKA St. Petersburg won the Continental Cup on Friday after defeating Western Division rival Dinamo Moscow 3-1 to cap a three-game winning sweep in the club’s final home series.

SKA bulldozed its way to the cup, awarded to the Kontinental Hockey League regular season champions, having chalked up a 5-1 win over Traktor Chelyabinsk and a 3-0 shutout over Metallurg Magnitogorsk earlier in the week.

SKA is one of the favorites to win this year’s Gagarin Cup — awarded to the KHL playoff winner — and as regular season champions SKA will have a home ice advantage throughout the playoffs, which start Feb. 20.

SKA head coach Jukka Jalonen blew off what some have dubbed the “Continental Cup curse” — the fact that since the cup’s inception in 2009, no Continental Cup winner has managed to advance beyond the conference finals.

“No one has seen this team in the playoffs and we’ll still do everything we can to get ready,” he said.

Team management made a number of 11th-hour moves just before the Feb. 1 trade deadline, including trading left wing Gleb Klimenko to Atlant Moscow Oblast in exchange for attacking defenseman Alexander Osipov, as well as signing wingers Mikhail Varnakov and Artemy Panarin from Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod and Vityaz Chekhov respectively, in exchange for draft picks.

SKA general manager Alexei Kasatonov was reluctant to trade Klimenko, who scored a goal in Wednesday’s game against Metallurg, and held out until minutes before the deadline.

Commenting on the trades, Jalonen was philosophical, explaining that SKA had been obliged to adopt a cautious approach looking forward.

“We lost two wingers who went back to the NHL, so we signed two Russian wingers, in addition to the center forward [we previously signed] from Finland,” said Jalonen. “We felt that we needed an extra defenseman because right now we’re only playing eight, which is a little risky because we could end up playing 28 games in two months [in the playoffs], so now we have him. Management did a great job getting these three players on the last day,” he added.

“Unfortunately, sometimes to get something you want, you have to give up something in return,” he said, referring to Klimenko.

Osipov played 42 games with Amur Khabarovsk, where he tallied 12 goals and six assists before he was traded to Ak Bars Kazan, from where he moved to Atlant, where he notched two assists in six games. Varnakov played 47 games with Torpedo, racking up 21 goals and 20 assists, and also played in this year’s KHL All Star Game. Panarin scored 11 goals and seven assists with Vityaz.

Journeyman goaltender Ivan Kasutin also joined SKA on Jan. 24. from Vityaz, and gave a strong performance in his SKA debut against Traktor.

“We’ll see how these new guys fit into our system,” Jalonen said, “…but overall I’m very happy with how the team is playing now.

“We’ve played close, hard games against some very tough teams. The deciding factor against Dinamo was [our] special teams; we were able to capitalize on our power plays, while they were not… Against Metallurg we were able to kill a four-minute penalty and then scored [taking a 2-0 lead and the momentum]… 5-1 is a great result against Traktor, but the game was pretty much even. They controlled the game in the first period, but we improved in the second period and in the third we capitalized on all of our scoring chances. We still have a lot of work moving forward,” said Jalonen.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s head coach Paul Maurice also commented on his team’s need to improve. The traditional powerhouse has been struggling to find itself since the departure of its locked-out NHL players, who returned to North America after the resolution of the NHL labor dispute.

“There haven’t been many games this season where we have been outplayed in all aspects, but tonight was one of those nights,” said Maurice.

“We’ve tried seven different line-ups in about as many games, but we still have time to get ready for the playoffs.”

Before the start of the game against Metallurg last Wednesday, SKA honored Norwegian Patrick Thoresen for being the first foreign player in the KHL to tally 250 points (97 goals and 153 assists). Thoresen agreed to a one-year extension to his contract Friday.

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