Clearly, the picture to the left is not a current picture of the Ak Bars Kazan team from the KHL. That, for all it is worth, is Vincent Lecavalier in Ak Bars colours. Vinny went over to the Russian Super League during the 2005 lockout and suited up for Kazan as they built a team out of a number of NHL stars. However, this history isn't why we're here today. In fact, you're probably wondering what that title means as well. It says "The Final Four", and it's appropriate as the KHL Gagarin Cup Playoffs are down to the four remaining teams: Ak Bars Kazan, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and Dynamo Moscow. Those four teams will battle it out for the Gagarin Cup.
- Ak Bars Kazan needed five games to dispatch Jaromir Jagr's #16-ranked Avangard Omsk Oblast team. Omsk, who upset the #1-ranked Salavat Yulaev Ufa, pushed the #2-ranked Kazan team to the limit by taking them to overtime of Game Five in their best-of-five series. Ilya Nikulin scored the tying goal in the dying seconds with the goalie pulled for Kazan to keep them alive. Three minutes into overtime, former NHLer Oleg Petrov scored for Ak Bars, eliminating Avangard.
- The #3-ranked Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team ended #9 HC Spartak Moscow's run in a three-game sweep. Forward Alexey Mikhnov continued his strong play for Lokomotiv, scoring the game- and series-winning goal in a 5-3 victory in Game Three.
- The #6-ranked Metallurg Magnitogorsk team sent Ray Emery and the #5-ranked Atlant Mytishchi team home in four games. After losing Game One 2-1 in overtime, Metallurg won three straight games to close out the series. Surprisingly, Metallurg is getting balanced scoring - completely different from the regular season where forward Jan Marek dominated the scoresheet.
- Dynamo Moscow, the 7th-ranked team in the playoffs, upset the 4th-ranked team in CSKA Moscow in a three-game sweep. Dynamo has yet to lose a game in the playoffs, sweeping both series to advance to the semi-finals. Former NHLer Mattias Veynhandl leads the way for Dynamo with four goals and six assists in six games.
- The semi-final and final series are both best-of-seven contests. Ak Bars Kazan will play Dynamo Moscow, while Lokomotiv Yaroslavl will square off against Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Schedules for the semi-final games will be announced tomorrow, but both of these series will feature excellent teams hungry for the first Gagarin Cup Championship.
- Just for fun, here is a map of all the teams in the KHL. It's interesting to see where some of these teams are. For example, Amur Khabarovsk is way out east compared to the rest of the teams. It's a pretty interesting look at the KHL.
- Congratulations goes out to Martin Brodeur who won the 551st game of his storied career on Saturday against his hometown Canadiens! Tomorrow night, Brodeur will face the Chicago Blackhawks in an effort to set the record for most career wins. If there is any question as to who is the best goaltender of the last decade is, one needs to go no further than Brodeur. Good luck tomorrow night!
- Congratulations also goes out to Ottawa 67's head coach Brian Kilrea! Kilrea was behind the bench for his final regular season game last night, and the 67's came through with another "W" for him, giving him 1193 wins in his coaching career. He's not done yet, though, as the 67's will face off against the Mississauga Ice Dogs in the first round of the OHL Playoffs. Good luck as you enter the "second season", Mr. Kilrea!
- As much as I criticized Sean Avery for his antics earlier this season, I have to say that I am very impressed with his play on the ice as of late. Avery has proven that he belongs in the NHL based upon his play, and I commend him for focusing on his play on the ice rather than his antics off of it. I'm not crediting him with the Hart Trophy by any means, but Avery has been playing excellent hockey as of late, and deserves a mention for his new-found passion.
Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!