Ak Bars Kazan wins KHL’s Gagarin Cup

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Gagarin Cup
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Russia’s Ak Bars Kazan won the Kontinental Hockey League’s Gagarin Cup final against CSKA Moscow on Sunday. This was the third Gagarin Cup victory in the team’s history. The team won the title in the KHL’s first two seasons but hasn’t won since. With three cups, Ak Bars topped HC Dynamo Moscow, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and SKA Saint Petersburg in total wins of the KHL championship.

The Gagarin Cup Returns to Kazan

It took five games for Ak Bars to win in the final series. Defining all odds, Ak Bars was considered an underdog, players from Kazan steamrolled the highly praised opponent, having lost only once in an overtime.

In the last game of 2018 playoffs, the former Edmonton Oilers forward Rob Klinkhammer scored a power-play goal in the third period. That only goal became the winner of the series. Emil Garipov recorded the first shutout of the final with 33 stops.

A long route to success

Ak Baras has not made the playoffs since 2015 but worked confidently and systematically to reach the ultimate goal. They were very active in acquiring players in the off-season.The hockey club from Kazan signed contract extensions with Justin Azevedo, Jiri Sekac and Vladimir Tkachyov. The team then cemented their blue line with a very experienced defenseman, signing Andrei Markov away from the Montreal Canadiens. The team also convinced Stanislav Galiev to leave the Washington Capitals farm club in favour of moving back to Russia.

The Fifth Cup for Zaripov

Besides competent transfers and contract renewals the hockey club made one great move  — they boosted team spirit by helping Danis Zaripov when he was appealing in his doping case. Team lawyers proved, that he didn’t dope intentionally. As a result, the International Ice Hockey Federation cut Zaripov’s doping ban to six months from two years. In November 2017, the only four times cup winner in the KHL history, Zaripov re-signed with Ak Bars. Six months later he had won the fifth trophy.

Justin Azevedo – MVP of the Playoffs

Canadian born Azevedo was named the 2018 Playoff MVP. He is the first non-Russian KHL player who won that title. Azevedo led the league in playoff scoring. The 30-year-old forward potted 24 points in 19 KHL playoff games, with nine goals and 15 assists. After winning the Cup, Azevedo is eager to re-sign with the club as his contract expires this year. Reacting to the MVP award Azevedo said that he would have given the honour to goalie Emil Garipov who did an outstanding job in net.

Time to Party

Right after a celebration in a locker room, the hockey club invited all coaches, players and their relatives to one of the best Kazan restaurants. The party would run until the morning and the club assured that no players would be punished for missing curfew.

 

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