A day before they were set to battle Sibir Novosibirsk in the opening game of a second-round playoff series, Kazakhstan-based Barys Nur-Sultan has backed out of the post-season amid concerns regarding the COVID-19 situation.
In a statement on the team's official website, Nur-Sultan has chosen to follow orders from the Kazakh government preventing sporting events and travel in and out of the country. Kazakhstan declared a State of Emergency on Saturday after a ninth case of the coronavirus was recorded. Only diplomats and select individuals are allowed to travel outside of the country at the moment.
The move comes following Nur-Sultan's 4-1 series victory over Metallurg Magnitogorsk last week. Nur-Sultan was viewed as one of the top contenders for the Gagarin Cup after finishing second in the Eastern Conference behind Ak Bars Kazan. Barys features a roster with nearly 500 games of NHL experience, including captain Darren Dietz, forwards Dustin Boyd and Iiro Pakarinen and goaltender Henrik Karlsson
The decision also follows Jokerit Helsinki's announcement that the club was abandoning its playoff series against SKA St. Petersburg over the weekend, and it leaves the KHL without a single non-Russian club in what is now a four-team field willing to continue the post-season. The KHL has yet to take an official stance on the departure by the two clubs, leaving questions as to whether the playoffs will continue with games slated for Tuesday featuring only partial match-ups. Last week, the KHL announced that the playoffs would continue without fans in attendance, with Game 6 of a first-round series between Spartak and Dynamo Moscow played in an empty arena.
On Monday, Dinamo coach Vladimir Krikunov joked that Jokerit and Barys should be out of the league after their refusals to play. Krikunov previously served as Barys Astana's coach for two seasons and has coached Kazakhstan internationally.
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