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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lada, Torpedo Favorites In Hockey Playoff Races

Defending Russian champion Lada Toliatti and surprising Torpedo Yaroslavl top the field for the 16-team "NHL style" playoff hockey tournament that started Monday in eight Russian cities.

After the 52 game, six-month regular season, Lada was clearly the best team in the Eastern Division, whereas Torpedo won a close battle for first over Moscow's Krylia Sovetov (Soviet Wings) and Dinamo in the West.

This hockey season has already had a few surprises, large and small, besides Yaroslavl. The once-dominant CSKA Moscow has fallen out to sixth place in the Western Division and Spartak of Moscow, another club with a glorious past, missed the playoffs for the first time in team's history.

CSKA, which lost more than three dozen players to the NHL over the last five years, is among the youngest teams in the league, and youth and inexperience were the main reasons for the club's poor performance in the home stretch.

Viktor Tikhonov, long-time CSKA head coach, tried in his usual low-key style, to avoid questions about the team's chances at the press conference after CSKA defeated Krylia Sovetov 2-1 in the regular season finale. "I'll tell you what happens after we play Metallurg in the first round," Tikhonov said.

Igor Dmitriev, Krylia's head coach, doesn't sound overly optimistic either. Krylia led the West for most of the season, but had to settle for second after late-season losses to Moscow Dinamo by a 5-1 score and to Yaroslavl by 6-0.

In the East, Lada, which last year became the first ever non-Moscow team to win the hockey crown, is clearly the team to beat in the playoffs. "It has an experienced goalie, good defence and capable offence -- all that you need to win," said Alexander Petrov, the editor of Hockey Weekly newspaper.