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Monday, May 24, 2010
Five things we learned from weekend


1. The hits just keep on coming for Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. After failing to lead the 2010 Russian Olympic team past the quarterfinal round in Vancouver (they were ousted by archrival Sidney Crosby and the Canadian team), Ovechkin's top-ranked Capitals were upset by the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs.

Then, Ovechkin and the Russians were upset by the Czech Republic in Sunday's gold-medal game at the hockey world championships. We're not a big fan of the tournament given that it isn't a true reflection of national-team talent (the vast majority of top players are still playing in the NHL playoffs or choose not to attend), but the Russians were loaded for this year's worlds and still couldn't get it done.

The burden doesn't simply fall on Ovechkin. There were 14 Russian Olympians on the world championships team, including captain Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar. But if we're going to continue to laud Ovechkin as one of the top two or three players in the world, it might be nice for him to lead his teams to something other than bitter disappointment and underachievement at some point.

2. Watching Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews avoid touching the Clarence Campbell Bowl after winning the Western Conference on Sunday in a sweep of the San Jose Sharks, we were reminded of the master of superstition, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

Following the same arcane superstition Toews was clearly following, Crosby did not pick up the Prince of Wales Trophy two years ago, when Pittsburgh defeated the Philadelphia Flyers to move on to the Cup finals. Last season, however, Crosby picked up the trophy when the Pens swept the Carolina Hurricanes to advance to their second straight Cup finals. The Pens won the Cup even if the conference championship trophy ended up sitting on the floor of the Penguins' dressing room in Carolina like an oversized ashtray.

ESPN Stats & Information guru Vincent Masi did some research and concluded it really doesn't matter if you touch the conference trophy or not. Since 2001, teams that touch the trophy have won four Cups, exactly the same number of teams whose captains have not touched the trophy. Hmm, it's shocking to learn that whether or not you touch an inanimate object has no bearing on winning a Cup.

The Flyers can join the Blackhawks in the 2010 finals with a win over Montreal on Monday night. The last time they advanced to the Cup finals, in 1997, captain Eric Lindros did not touch the trophy and the Flyers were promptly swept by the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit captain Steve Yzerman touched the trophy when the Wings beat the Colorado Avalanche in the West finals. Word to the wise if you win the East title, Mike Richards ... you better get your hands all over that baby. Or not.

3. If the Flyers do close out the Canadiens and advance to the Cup finals, they will share a long history of misery with their opponents from Chicago.

The Hawks haven't won the Cup since 1961, the longest Cup drought in the NHL. In between, they have been to the Cup finals five times. That's the same number of Cup finals defeats the Flyers have endured since they last won it all in 1975.

The Boston Bruins, who haven't won a Cup since 1972 and enjoy the third-longest Cup drought behind Chicago and the Toronto Maple Leafs (1967), have also been to the finals five times since last winning and are 0-for-5.

4. The issue of what, if anything, ended up on the floor outside the Philadelphia dressing room before Game 4 in Montreal -- and who might have put it there -- conjures up all kinds of memories of dirty little tricks at playoff time, real or imagined.

We recall visiting playoff teams arriving in Detroit to find that the visitors' room had just been given a fresh coat of paint. There were reports the visitors' bench would mysteriously end up a little shorter than during the regular season. Some of the reporters who covered the 1993 Stanley Cup finals between Montreal and the Los Angeles Kings remember rumors of the Canadiens somehow knowing which of the Kings' sticks might have been illegal. Sure enough, Marty McSorley was caught with the most famous illegal stick in Stanley Cup finals history. Did someone sneak into the Kings' dressing room and measure the sticks? Maybe it was the same person who dropped whatever was on the ground outside the Flyers' room Saturday.

5. The St. Louis Blues will find themselves with a significant hole in their scouting department with the news Monday that director of amateur scouting Jarmo Kekalainen has agreed to become the GM of Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League.

The good news for the Blues is Kekalainen, considered one of the top talent evaluators -- specifically of talent in Europe -- in the game, will hang around to help out the Blues on draft day in Los Angeles next month.

"I would like to thank the St. Louis Blues organization for allowing me this opportunity with Jokerit," said Kekalainen in a new release. "I am 100-percent committed and focused on selecting the best possible prospects for the Blues in this upcoming NHL draft."

The Blues have assembled a top-notch cast of young players in recent years and much of the credit goes to Kekalainen.