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Home News Two-time Vezina winner, former champion and talented rookie: Who the Russians are in the running for the Stanley Cup

Two-time Vezina winner, former champion and talented rookie: Who the Russians are in the running for the Stanley Cup

Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash


The first round of the NHL playoffs was rich in surprises. Though nominally only two of the favorites of their pairings, Boston and Colorado, were eliminated, in fact there were many more unexpected results. For example, few expected the early departure of last year’s finalist Tampa or the demise of the much-improved Rangers. Much more was expected of the Islanders against the Carolina club that lost Andrei Svechnikov. However, Laine Lambert’s team managed to take the lead in only two games, despite the impressive performance of Ilya Sorokin, who hit 92.9% of his shots on average. His opposite side, Frederik Andersen, was absolutely unbeatable (97.1%).

Thus, out of 19 Russian hockey players, only five made it to the second stage of the Stanley Cup only five. The season ended early for such masters as Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Kirill Kaprizov, Artemiy Panarin, Vladimir Tarasenko and others, and among the possible contenders remained rather important, but not defining performers for their teams. Only Sergei Bobrovsky can be considered a superstar, although he has not been a major contender for the Vezina Trophy for quite some time.

And against the backdrop of recent years, this looks very unusual. Since 2018, there have never been fewer than two Russians in the decisive round of the tournament. Back then it was a trio from Washington consisting of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov, a year later they were replaced by Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashyov from St. Louis, and in 2020 there were record numbers for that stretch. Back then, Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov, Mikhail Sergachev and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced Alexander Radulov, Denis Guryanov and Anton Khudobin of Dallas. This time, however, it could be that not a single Russian will make it to the finals.

One way or another, the dispute between domestic goalies promises to be one of the most curious stories within the quarterfinals. Bobrovsky’s “Florida” will meet with “Toronto” which goal is protected by his compatriot Ilya Samsonov. He represented Washington a year ago and was severely criticized for his instability and regular mistakes but this season he is flourishing. The Magnitogorsk native won the competition from Pavel Frantsoz, became the mainstay of the Maple Leafs and made the coaching staff forget about the loss of Darcy Kemper, who ironically went to the Capitals.

On paper, Samsonov stands a much better chance of advancing to the next stage. “Toronto has a stronger roster and might have made it to the East Finals a year ago, had the reigning winner of the trophy, Tampa, not stood in its way. Back then, the Canadian team lost in only seven games and the absence of a reliable goalie was almost the key factor. Jack Campbell failed to live up to the expectations and lost a close game to Vasilevsky, ending the series with an extremely poor showing. He averaged 3.15 goals against and only deflected 89.7% of his shots. After that, he predictably did not receive a contract extension and went to Edmonton, where he also failed to become number one.

That’s not to say that Samsonov looked any better than last year’s Campbell. Statistically, he was only slightly better than his predecessor, but he has already helped the Maple Leafs solve a crucial problem and break the 1/8 finals barrier for the first time since 2004. And his teammate certainly does not surpass him in stability. In fact, Bobrovsky started the series with Boston as understudy to Alex Lyon and only returned to his starting lineup status as the series progressed. He was one of the creators of the team’s success, but he was not always perfect.

Undoubtedly, Bobrovsky is still capable of producing a bright performance and even participate in the scoring attack, but his previous results in the Stanley Cup coupled with age-induced decline in performance do not allow him to be favored against Samsonov, as does Florida in its confrontation with Toronto. Their win over Boston was due more to accumulated fatigue and underestimation of their opponent by the Bruins than to the Panthers’ willingness to jump into the race for the trophy. The Maple Leafs have more firepower, and even the presence of Matthew Tkachuk, Alexander Barkov and Brandon Montour is unlikely to make up for the difference.

The obvious plus of the series between Toronto and Florida is the fact that at the end of it one of the Russian goalies is guaranteed to go further in the tournament. The same applies to the games between Edmonton and Vegas, which also feature one Russian athlete each. This time, however, we are talking about field players, and one of them has had previous playoff winning experience.

We’re talking about Ivan Barbashev, who traded from struggling St. Louis to the Nevada club just before the end of the roster period. He did not (and should not) have become the club’s leader, but he was useful on the new team and played one of the most impressive parts of the regular season. In 23 games he scored 16 (6 + 10) points. If we’re talking about the pace of his scoring, he was more productive only once – in the 2021/22 season. He finished with 26 goals and 34 assists in 81 games.

The Russian hasn’t looked that good in the playoffs yet. At this point he has only three (1 + 2) points which is ninth on the team. But in the upcoming series the hockey player of one of the key links and partner Jack Eikel with Jonathan Marchessault will be required much more. After all, the Golden Knights will have to compete against Edmonton, led by Connor McDavid and Leon Dreisaitl, whom they have lost three of four regular season games.

Notably, after being traded from St. Louis, Barbashev distinguished himself twice in meetings with the Oilers and helped the Golden Knights open the scoring in a crucial duel. On March 26 he assisted Eikel, and three days later he put Marchessault in the scoring position. However, he was successful only in the first game (4-3 OT) and failed to escape a big loss (4-7) in the second. In both games, his compatriot Klim Kostin, Edmonton’s secret weapon in the Stanley Cup, went silent.

The Russian currently sits fourth on the Oilers’ all-time leading scorers list, behind only McDavid and Dreisatl and defenseman Evan Bouchard who has amassed a collection of two pucks and eight assists. And if he continues in that vein, he could very well become one of the team’s X-factors in the battle for the championship. After the fiascoes of Boston and Colorado, bookmakers call Edmonton the top favorite in the West, and the composite rankings are second only to Toronto. This is largely due to the bright play of the underclassmen, who are a great support to their main stars.

In addition to Toronto, Edmonton and Vegas, the top four contenders for the trophy include Dallas. In the first round, Peter DeBoer’s team had a little trouble, but on the whole they handled Minnesota pretty well, and now they will face one of the main sensations of the competition. “Seattle” has already forever written its name in history, crushing “Colorado”, but will it have enough strength to cope with a team that represents an almost perfect combination of experience and youth, as well as having an excellent goalie in the team?

Even if Evgeny Dadonov isn’t even one of the Stars’ top-10 highest-paid players, his contribution to the team’s success shouldn’t be underestimated. The Russian veteran started to prove his mettle right after being traded to the Texans (3+12 in 23 games) and hasn’t slowed down in the playoffs. With four points (3 + 1) he’s the fifth-leading scorer, behind only Tyler Seguin and Roopa Hinz on the scoring chart.

And while Seattle has already demonstrated its ability to perform miracles, it will be extremely difficult to do the same twice. That’s not just because the Kraken can’t be expected to underestimate their opponent this time around. In contrast to Colorado, Dallas has no roster problems and is in great shape, and in terms of cohesion it can give many a head start.

Thus, only the series between Carolina and New Jersey will be held without the Russians. Things might have been different, though, had Svechnikov not suffered a cruciate ligament injury in March and had to undergo surgery. And while the Hurricanes are much weaker without him, he remains a pretty formidable contender. And the bookmakers confirm that, giving him a preference in the battle with the Devils.

And with good reason. Rod Brindamore has one of the most potent defensive lines, aided by an incredibly productive Anderson goalie. The only question is whether they have enough attacking power to compete with Lindy Ruff’s “explosive” squad. Still, not only Svechnikov, but also two other star forwards, Max Pacioretty and Teuvo Terjavainen, are on injured reserve.

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