HV71, the reigning Swedish champion, has had a roller coaster ride of a season. The team started the season slow, got ousted from the Champions League after the group stage – advancing came down to a loss against SC Bern in a game where the Swiss team scored four shorthanded goals – then started to climb in the Elitserien standings, finishing fourth.
In the playoffs, HV71 was pitted against Timrå, the team ranked eighth, after none of the teams ahead of it in the standings picked Timrå. (In Sweden, the regular season winner, this time Färjestad, gets to choose whether it’ll play against the regular season seventh or eighth-place team; the regular season runner-up then picks between 6th and whoever is left, and so on).
The quarterfinal series turned into a roller coaster ride similar to the entire season. HV71 found itself in a hole, trailing three games to one in a best-of-seven series. Their captain, Johan Davidsson, the winner of this season’s Golden Helmet – the league MVP, voted by the players – played with an injury and wasn’t the force he was expected to be.
But then the roller coaster car called HV71 picked up speed again, and the speediest of all was 19-year-old Mattias Tedenby, who used his talents to do a fantastic impersonation of Davidsson.
In the fall, Tedenby, who was drafted 24th overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2008, had spent a month and a half in Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second division) to get ice time when he couldn’t crack the HV71 lineup. Injuries and good games at the world juniors brought him back and in the quarterfinal series he made the HV71 management look like geniuses by scoring four goals in the last four games as HV71 took three straight wins and became the first team in Elitserien history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series.
“It’s a lot of fun to get responsibility and often young players grow with that,” Tedenby said.
Three of the games went into overtime and in Game 7, HV71 had a 3-0 lead with four minutes remaining.
On Thursday, HV71 won its first semifinal game against Frölunda, 3-1. Tedenby was left off the score sheet and Davidsson didn’t dress.
But the rollercoaster is still moving.
In the Swedish qualification series, former Dallas and Phoenix right winger Mathias Tjärnqvist, now with Rogle, was suspended two games after his hit sent Leksand’s Antti-Jussi Niemi (the ex-Anaheim defenseman), into the boards behind the Leksand net.
Niemi was clearing the puck when Tjärnqvist’s check sent him into the glass head-first. Niemi lost consciousness before hitting the ice and was carried out on a stretcher. According to Leksand’s doctor, he had a concussion and multiple fractures in his skull, one with an entry to Niemi’s brain, exposing it to bacteria.
“These things happen. It was an important game and emotions ran high. That’s hockey,” Niemi said the next day.
“As long as I won’t get any bacteria in the brain, I should be able to resume my career, but I don’t know where that would be yet,” he added.
Leksand’s squad also lost the first three games of that qualification series and fired its coaches.
ALL PLAYED OUT
To add games to the schedule for all teams, the Finnish SM-liiga introduced the playouts for teams that finished 11th to 14th this season. The loser of the best-of-five series will continue their season against the loser of the other series, until only one loser is left.
That loser will then take on the winner of the playoffs in Mestis, the division below SM-liiga, in a death match for the spot in SM-liiga – presuming the Mestis club has enough financial resources to guarantee they can play in the SM-liiga.
The playouts haven’t been a great commercial success in their first year. The average attendance of the eight games so far was 2,008, when the league average for the regular season was 4,919, and the average of the teams in the playouts was 4,100.
In Pori, where Ässät is just one loss away from becoming the team to take on the Mestis winner, the attendance has gone from 4,120 in the regular season to 1,486 in the playouts.
HOCKEY FEVER IN FINLAND
Meanwhile…the distance between Pori and Turku, the home of TPS, is just 130 kilometers, but it might as well be 1,300 as far as hockey is concerned right now.
TPS finished tenth in the regular season and was the last team to qualify for the playoffs - or as they call it in Finland, “the wild card round” between teams finishing seventh through 10th - for the fourth consecutive season.
This season, TPS is turning out to be a true wild card. First it finished off IFK Helsinki in two straight games, but that didn’t get the attention of hockey fans, their beating of regular season winner JYP in the first quarterfinal game in Jyväskylä did. The Turku arena was packed for the first quarterfinal game played in Turku since 2005 and the team’s attendance has doubled to 10,050 in the post-season from the regular season’s 5,139.
The series between TPS and JYP is tied 2-2.
BATTLE OF PRAGUE?
Both Prague teams, Slavia and Sparta, advanced to the semifinals in the Czech Extraliga, setting the stage for an all-Prague final. Of course, that is still eight wins away, as both teams have to win their best-of-seven series.
Well, only seven wins now, as Sparta won their first semifinal game against Energie Karlovy Vary (but lost the second one).
Slavia Prague will meet Lasselsberger Plzen in their semifinal series.
Plzen has taken the long way to the semifinal, first going a full five games in a qualification round to the quarterfinal, then securing their semifinal spot by beating HC Moeller Pardubice in overtime in Game 7. That series will kick off on Friday.
Plzen’s Martin Straka leads the post-season scoring race with six goals and 16 points in 12 games. His linemate, former Slavia player Tomas Vlasak, is second with 14 points.
Eye on Europe will be featured on THN.com every Friday throughout the season. Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden who also writes for NHL.com and IIHF.com. When not writing about European hockey on THN, he's probably writing about hockey at ristopakarinen.com/hockey as Puckarinen.
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