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Kulemin contributing at the Worlds; Gustavsson makes a statement; NHL playoff notebook

From a Leaf perspective I’m most interested, as I mentioned in a post last week, to see how Nikolai Kulemin does as the World Championship games in Germany take on much more significance this coming week.

He seems to be playing between ten and fifteen minutes a game, so they are counting on him to play third and fourth line minutes. He has scored in each of Russia’s last two games, a 3-2 victory over the host German side, and 6-1 against a struggling Danish team.

That said, the bar will be raised significantly when Russia plays Finland next, and then it’s on to the elimination round.

With Datsuyk having joined the Russian team after the Red Wings lost out in the NHL playoffs, Kulemin may be one of those playing a bit less from now on, but we’ll see. There’s a lot of talent up front on the Russian national team, with Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Semin, Frolov, Malkin and the old master, Federov. Though Kulemin represented Russia a few years ago as a 20 year-old, it’s a big step for the young Leaf winger to play at the international level with that kind of talent.

Leaf fans hope that he just keeps growing as a player, something he certainly did with the Leafs over the course of the recently completed NHL regular season. I believe that Kulemin can double his point total from this past season and become a 70-point guy -- if not next season then the year after. Like most developing players he will experience peaks and troughs, but has demonstrated he can play, and importantly, is likely to make a significant offensive contribution next year and beyond.


Jonas Gustavsson earned the win for Sweden against Canada on Sunday. He will likely be counted upon by the Swedish coaching staff as the Championships move forward. As we see every spring in the NHL playoffs, goalies are under the microscope and they can quickly go from hero to goat in people’s minds. Hopefully Gustavsson will take the next big step in his development. Yesterday was a good start on a pretty big stage.

NHL playoffs notes

 Whatever leadership questions surfaced earlier this season about Mike Richards in Philadelphia have evidently vanished.

 Who would have predicted before the playoffs began (much less before the season started) that the goalies in the final four would be Niemi, Nabakov, Halak and Leighton? Surely most analysts and fans assumed at least one of Miller, Luongo, Brodeur or Fleury -- considred the top goalies in hockey -- would have led their team this far.

 It’s hard to argue with those who make the case that Pronger may be the most valuable player in the playoffs. He makes a difference for every team he goes to. I was among those who thought he would fall off the pace in the “new” post-lockout NHL four years ago -- and it just hasn’t happened.

 I’m not as down on the Bruins as many observers are. They went a long way with a really young goalie in Rask- who had zero playoff experience going in and should only get better over time. Besides Chara, they aren’t deep on defense yet they did came within a goal of the final four. How could we expect Savard to be at the top of his game after missing so much time? And when Krejci went down in Game 3, the Bruins lost a key ingredient, an all-around contributor who was playing between 20 and 25 minutes a game. It’s easy to forget that there are two teams trying to win every night and winning isn’t automatic- even when you’re up 3 games, or 3-0 in a game.

 It’s difficult to imagine either Philly or the Habs being able to upset Chicago, with all their speed and talent, or San Jose with their significant experience. Can Halak play another series like he has so far, much less two? Leighton is a good NHL goalie, but I don’t quite see how the Flyers win it all. I love their heart, how can you not, but the Western teams are looking good.

 Dating back to 1967 (when the Leafs got hammered in Game one in both the Chicago and Montreal series and won in six), I’ve been of the view that the first game in a series doesn’t mean much if the home team wins. For me, the key games are games two and four in most series.

 I’ve got to believe the Habs will be much more competitive in Game two, but who knows what will happen after the first two rounds of the Eastern conference playoffs. They Habs may bounce back -- or they may not have much more to give. So far, Halak has usually bounced back after a loss with superb efforts.

Final thought: maybe Hal Gill is indeed more important than we thought when he was a Leaf. He certainly helped Pittsburgh win the Cup last season and has contributed significantly to Montreal getting this far.

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