Russia’s Continental Hockey League was on everybody’s radar in the first four months of the hockey season, thanks to the NHL lockout. Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk all returned home to play, and once the labour dispute was resolved, came back to North America, skewing the balance of power. In the end, Moscow Dynamo won the championship this past week, defeating Traktor Chelyabinsk in a six-game final that featured a pair of No.3 seeds. Viktor Tikhonov, grandson of the legendary Russian hockey coach and the Phoenix Coyotes’ first-round choice, 28th overall, in 2008, led the KHL playoffs in scoring with 19 points in 15 games, even though his SKA St. Petersburg team was eliminated in the semi-final. Meanwhile, Paul Maurice’s team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, lost in seven games in the opening round, which is how he happened to be available to work on the TSN panel this past week. … Lindy Ruff, the former Buffalo Sabres coach, will lead Canada’s world-championship entry for the second time in four years. This year’s tournament will be played in Helsinki and Stockholm (where Canada will be based for the preliminary round). The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steve Yzerman is Canada’s general manager, and he’ll start to recruit players next week, as NHL teams are eliminated from playoff contention. Canada hopes to have its team on a plane to Sweden the Tuesday after the regular season ends, leaving the Canadians perhaps two days to practise before the tournament gets under way May 4. Usually the NHL regular season is long over by the time the world championship begins, making it harder to recruit players who are already in vacation mode. This year, with a shortened season, Ruff figures players will generally be more receptive to Canada’s overtures, especially since it will act as a de facto Olympics tryout for some of the younger players on Canada’s watch list. “If you turn it down, I think you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage,” Ruff said. “If you go and have a great worlds, help the team win a medal, a gold medal, or even have a tremendous tournament, it just puts you in a lot better light for the future.” … The Nashville Predators were the second Western Conference team eliminated from playoff contention, and thanks to a seven-game losing streak, are in the hunt for a top-three draft choice. Lots went wrong in Nashville this season. The scoring dried up (the Predators are 30th in the league on a goals-per-game basis, at 2.23); injuries knocked Colin Wilson, Gabriel Bourque and Patric Hornqvist out of the lineup for significant stretches; and goalie Pekka Rinne was nowhere near the same player he was a year ago, when he led the NHL with 43 wins. Rinne has a chance to lose as many games in the 48-game season (17 and counting) as he did all of last year (18 in regulation). … What a turnaround for the San Jose Sharks’ Brent Burns, who started the year on the injury list after having a sports-hernia operation in the off-season. Burns got into only six games in the first half, but he’s been on fire of late, with eight goals in total, all of them since coach Todd McLellan moved him to forward on the top line with Joe Thornton and most recently with T.J. Galiardi. Burns is the quintessential power forward, who has spent most of the past half dozen seasons playing defence, but he seems right at home there now and is one of the galvanizing factors in the Sharks’ turnaround. The other is goaltender Antti Niemi, who has quietly inserted himself into the Vézina Trophy discussion and is tied for the NHL lead in wins (22) with Marc-André Fleury (Pittsburgh) and Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota). … The St. Louis Blues will be without their sparkplug winger, T.J. Oshie, after he had surgery on his left ankle. He is listed as out “week-to-week.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Average ice time for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 37-year-old Martin St. Louis, tied for second among forwards with teammate Steven Stamkos, but miles behind the leader, injured New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk (25:15).
Career points for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jarome Iginla, who achieved the milestone during Wednesday’s 6-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Iginla became the third player this season after Daniel Alfredsson and Joe Thornton to reach 1,100 points.
Career wins for the St. Louis Blues’ Ken Hitchcock, the 11th coach in NHL history to reach that plateau. Hitchcock got the milestone victory in a shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks. Six of the 11 coaches who have reached 600 spent part of their careers in St. Louis. The others: Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Joel Quenneville, Mike Keenan and Jacques Martin.
THEY SAID IT
“I deal in realism and facts and the facts speak pretty clearly. This is an urgent moment for us. You can’t watch your way in, you have to win your way.” ~ Mike Babcock, The Detroit Red Wings’ head coach, after his team lost for the third time this season to the Calgary Flames, dropping Detroit out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“I think we’re a younger, better, faster team and we’re just going out there and having fun.” ~ Jamie Benn, The Dallas Stars’ forward notes how his team has stayed in the playoff race despite trade-deadline moves that sent away, among others, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy. The Stars are the only team this year that’s traded away their leading scorer twice (Michael Ryder to Montreal in the Erik Cole deal, Jagr to the Bruins a month later).