Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s season is dangerously close to being finished.
Despite the efforts of Penguins prospect Evgeni Malkin, Magnitogorsk sits on the brink of elimination from the Russian Super League playoffs with Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Avangard Omsk.
The defeat gave Omsk a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five semifinal series. It won the opener, 2-1, in overtime before Magnitogorsk rallied for a 4-3 win in the second meeting.
Malkin, the second-overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, is the second-leading scorer in the postseason with 14 points (5+9). The dominant 19-year-old center, who is widely considered the world’s best player not in the NHL, finished the RSL regular season with 21 goals and 26 assists in 46 games. His 47 points ranked third in the league behind Sergei Mozyakin (52) and former Penguin Aleksey Morozov (49). However, Malkin played in five fewer games than those two due to his participation in the World Junior Championships.
Malkin guided Magnitogorsk to a first-place finish in the regular season. The team scored the most goals in the league (175) and gave up the least (75), which set a league record. In addition, the team’s 29-point margin in the standings over second-place AK Bars Kazan established a league standard.
Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who played for Magnitogorsk last season, is closely monitoring the Russian Super League playoffs and pulling for his former club.
“I was there last year and they are playing only two hours away from my hometown, so it’s a team I am cheering for,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on them to win because they set a couple records during the regular season.
“That’s put the pressure on them to win. They have a good team and they have a good chance for it, but anything is possible in the playoffs.”
Magnitogorsk can stave off elimination and even the series with a win Thursday.
In addition to Malkin, Magnitogorsk features Penguins prospect Vladimir Malenkykh and a talent-laden roster with former NHLers Dmitri Yushkevich, Stanislav Chistov, Igor Korolev and Anders Eriksson. The team is under the direction of former NHL and Team Canada coach Dave King.
“There are a lot of guys who were in the NHL systems,” Gonchar said. “They are a team with a lot of experience and they have a good coach and a good goalie.”
AK Bars Kazan, which features Morozov, leads its semifinal series with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, 2-0. Morozov leads all playoff scorers with 20 points (10+10).