Two ex-Canucks win the KHL's Gagarin Cup as Cole Caufield tears up U18s
Happy Easter! Happy Passover! Happy 4:20!
Whatever you celebrate, we've got gorgeous weather to enjoy it here in Vancouver.
I'm just back from my run, and will now be content to spend the rest of the day watching playoff hockey. The Stars and Preds kicking things off at noon, followed by the Jets and Blues at 4 p.m. and the Caps and Hurricanes at 5.
I'm really happy that Carolina delivered its fans two home wins but I'll be very surprised if the Caps don't take the series in the end—even without injured T.J. Oshie. I picked Winnipeg to beat St. Louis because I thought Jordan Binnington would wilt under the bright playoff spotlight—and perhaps he still will. And I picked Nashville to beat Dallas but that series seems like it could go either way at this point. With three goals in four games, trade deadline acquisition Mats Zuccarello has done more for the Stars than Wayne Simmonds, Brian Boyle and Mikael Granlund have brought to the Preds: Granlund has one goal and Boyle has one assist. Boyle has missed the last three games with an appendix issue and Simmonds, who's pointless, has missed two with a lower-body issue.
Boyle's in the lineup for Saturday's game. Simmonds is not.
I feel like the Hockey Gods have taken advantage of legalization and been celebrating 4:20 for the last 10 days. How else do we explain the fact that for the first time in history, both top seeds have been eliminated in the first round—and that they only won one game between them??
I did pick the Avs to take out the Flames—in no small part because I'm a big believer in Nathan MacKinnon. We've seen peak Avs against the Canucks more than once. But I thought Calgary's downfall would be its goaltending and to be honest, Mike Smith was the one guy who did pull his weight in the series.
Johnny Gaudreau was great against the Canucks in the playoffs in his rookie season, with six points in six games, but he has yet to replicate that performance. He had two goals and an assist in the Flames' five-game second-round loss to Anaheim that same year, in 2015, then went on to log just two assists in four games when the Flames were swept by the Ducks in 2017 and only one assist in five games against Colorado this year. It's tough to advance when your top sniper keeps going cold in the postseason—and Gaudreau certainly had his chances to be a difference-maker on Friday.
Speaking of Flames players who excelled against the Canucks in 2015, the player who will always be known to us as 18-year-old Sam Bennett had a good series behind his Lanny McDonald mustache this year. He led the Flames with five points in five games after another ho-hum regular season that saw him post 27 points in 71 games.
Two ex-Canucks who were on that 2014-15 club earned themselves a championship on Friday—a Gagarin Cup with CSKA Moscow, in the KHL.
Congratulations to Linden Vey and Jannik Hansen! Vey finished with 3-7-10 in 18 playoff games. Hansen had 1-2-3 in nine playoff games, but played his last game on April 1. Not sure if he was injured or healthy scratched after that?
CSKA won the championship with a sweep of Avangard—which includes the Canucks' sixth-rounder from 2018, Artem Manukyan. After going 3-12-15 in 62 regular-season KHL games this year, Manukyan had one goal in 18 playoff games.
Speaking of undersized players, Cole Caufield is doing everything he can to convince scouts to ignore his stature over at the U18 tournament. Hockey DB has Caufield, who turned 18 in February, at 5'6" and 150 pounds but he may have had a growth spurt. He's listed at 5'7" and 163 pounds on his current IIHF page—and is leading the tournament in the early going with 7-2-9 in just two games so far, one point ahead of his linemate Jack Hughes.
The U.S. team has romped to a 6-1 win over Sweden and a 12-5 win over Slovakia so far. Other teams that are also 2-0 in the early part of the tournament are Russia, Canada and—surprisingly—Belarus, which has upset the Czechs and Finns so far.
Canada faces Belarus next, on Sunday, while the Americans will have their biggest test to date when they go up against the Russians. USA/Russia goes at 6:30 a.m. PT on Sunday, followed by Canada/Belarus at 10:30, with both games on TSN3 and TSN5.
Back on Canadian soil, the CHL playoffs continue. Mikey DiPietro's Ottawa 67s are in the midst of the second game of their OHL Eastern Conference Final against the Oshawa Generals—tied 2-2 in the second period as I type this after winning Game 1 by a score of 6-4.
And out at the Langley Events Centre on Friday, the Vancouver Giants kicked off their WHL Western Conference Final with a 4-1 win over the Spokane Chiefs. Game 2 goes Saturday at 7 p.m. PT.