Kovalchuk leads SKA St. Petersburg to decisive victory to capture KHL championship

SKA St. Petersburg captured the Gagarin Cup Sunday evening in the KHL with a convincing 6-1 victory in Game 5. Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored two goals in the deciding game, was named playoff MVP with eight goals and 19 points, but handed the award to teammate Evgeny Dadonov.

If Ilya Kovalchuk’s goal when he left the New Jersey Devils and the NHL for SKA and the KHL was to bring a league championship to St. Petersburg, he’s accomplished it.

Up 3-1 in the Gagarin Cup final over Eastern Conference champion Kazan, Kovalchuk’s SKA club absolutely dominated Ak Bars in what would be the fifth and deciding game of the series. It took only 1:13 for St. Petersburg to get on the board, too, when Jimmie Ericsson found the back of the net before fans had even really settled in. From there, it was all SKA.

By the time the first period was through, Kovalchuk, Evgeny Dadonov and Alexei Ponikarovsky had added goals to put St. Petersburg ahead 4-0 after the first frame.

Early in the second, Kazan struck thanks to a Mikahil Glukhov tally, but less than a minute later Kovalchuk responded with his eighth goal of the post-season. Ahead 5-1, SKA would simply play out the victory, adding one final nail in Ak Bars’ coffin thanks to a Roman Cervenka marker with 1:03 remaining. The 6-1 victory sealed a 4-1 series, and championship, win for St. Petersburg.

“It’s a real family and we’ve been a tight-knit team all season,” Kovalchuk told the KHL site following the victory. “Our directors flew with us to every game in the play-offs and we all shared in making the locker room into a family home. That really played a big role; we’ve not had anything like that at SKA before. Now we’re heading back to St. Petersburg to celebrate!”

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With the victory, SKA captured its first Gagarin Cup, marking the first time in the franchise’s nearly 60-year history that it has won a league championship of any kind. It does, however, add to previous Continental Cup and Spengler Cup victories for the team.

In order to get to the final, SKA completed an improbable comeback after going down 3-0 in the Conference final series to CSKA Moscow, the regular season’s best team.

The playoff MVP was awarded to Kovalchuk, who potted eight goals and 19 points in 22 games. However, when handed the award, Kovalchuk skated to Dadonov, whose 15 goals set a new KHL playoff record besting the previous high set by Mikhail Anisin in the 2012 post-season, and handed off the trophy.

There has been speculation this could have been Kovalchuk’s final season in the KHL as he contemplates an NHL return. With the off-season looming, any questions about Kovalchuk’s future will likely be answered in the coming months.