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19 Mar, 2009 10:52

Russia prepares for action as KHL semis get underway

Just four teams remain in the inaugural KHL play-offs with the first of the semi-finals getting underway in the Tatarstan capital on Thursday.

The remaining big four will playoff in two best-of-seven series to determine the finalists.

Last year's semi-finalists, Ak Bars, host in form Dynamo Moscow in the first two games of the last 4 showdown. But it's the Muscovites who look the stronger going into their first match on Thursday.

Vladimir Vujtek's men are yet to drop a game in the playoffs after steamrolling their club affiliates Dynamo Riga in the last 16 and sweeping aside cross-town rivals CSKA Moscow to get to the semis.

Making things look even better for Dynamo is the fact their net-minder Vitaly Eremeev was named the best keeper of the quarter-finals.

Ereemev stopped a staggering 97.1 percent of shots on Dynamo's goal.

However, coach Vujtek singled out Ak Bars as the favourites to lift the inaugural Gagarin Cup.

Zinatulla Bilyaletdinov's charges showed their worth in their quarter-final series against Avangard. Just one loss away from crashing out, Ak Bars rediscovered the form that saw them clinch Russian championship back in 2006.

They launched a comeback, drubbing Avangard 11-1 in game 4 and booked a berth in the semis with an overtime win in the deciding game number 5.

The other semi-final series gets underway on Friday when last year's beaten finalists Lokomotiv welcome Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Yaroslavl.