Kazan hope to rediscover winning formula

The fat has been trimmed from the Kontinental Hockey League and we are down to the best 16 teams to fight it out for the 11th Gargarin Cup.

AK Bars Kazan lifted the trophy for the third time in its history last year but enter the 2019 play-offs in far from sparkling form, finishing the regular season with a shut-out loss to Metallurg.

That defeat set up a showdown with Avangard in the quarter-finals with Omsk hosting the series’ opener on Monday. Given Avangard’s good home form, this looks a daunting test for Tatarstan but they aren’t the reigning champions for nothing.

Avangard fortress not impregnable

Omsk ended the 62-game regular season with the second best home record in the Eastern Conference, with only Ekaterinburg bettering their efforts. They gave a clear demonstration of their efficacy on home ice with a 7-3 thrashing of Sibir in the final game of the regular season and look well primed for the post-season.

That 7-3 scoreline maintained Avangard’s excellent average of three goals per match at the Arena Omsk and they are 2.15 to net over 2.5 goals in Monday’s encounter with Kazan.

The Snow Leopards lost on their last visit to Omsk via a shootout in September before gaining a measure of revenge in overtime in the reverse fixture in January. In fact, there hasn’t been an away win in regulation time between these two since they last met in the play-offs in 2017.

Kazan were the victors on that occasion and went on to clinch the series 4-2. These two franchises have met three times in the play-offs previously and each time the road team has won the opening match.

With Kazan’s away record fourth best in the East, it is worth taking a chance on Tatarstan at 2.15.

Jokerit seek to break Dynamo curse

If you are a Jokerit Helsinki fan, the last team you wanted in the play-offs was Dynamo Moscow. The Russian franchise has won the last 11 meetings with the Jokers, stretching all the way back to 2015.

However, Jokerit did finish eight points clear of Dynamo in the final Western Conference standings and have a good home record to call upon for the series opener. They also have the second best goalscoring record in the KHL, lighting the lamp an impressive 197 times so far this season.

The problems have been at the other end of the ice, conceding 164 goals, making the over 4.5 goals in Monday’s clash at 1.84 worth considering.

Dynamo travel to the Finnish capital in good form on the road, having won 10 of their last 12 games away from home, with their counter-attacking style paying dividends in the latter weeks of the regular season.

Given they seem to have a psychological edge over Jokerit, Dynamo +0.5 on the puck line at 1.84 is also worth considering.

Sochi to keep pace with Lokomotiv

Yaroslavl Lokomotiv enter the play-offs as one of the teams to watch out for having caught the eye during the regular season. Finishing third in the west was a good achievement given the strength of St Petersburg and CSKA Moscow and this young side have all the hallmarks of future Gargarin Cup winners.

Yaroslavl have made the play-offs in every KHL season so far and have only failed to advance beyond the first round three times. In contrast, Sochi have yet to win a play-off series and could potentially be out of their depth against Lokomotiv, having finished 20 points behind them in the standings.

The Sochi Leopards do enter the play-offs in good form though, winning their last five matches to secure a place in the post-season.

The meetings between these two teams tend to be tight, with no more than a goal between them come the final hooter in the last six meetings.

While Yaroslavl are expected to advance to the next round of the play-offs, Sochi will play them tough and are worth taking at 2.01 on the puck line with a +1handicap.