With just four teams remaining, the race to the SHL championship has yet to be decided. With two teams in control of their series, the final pairing could be decided as early as Tuesday night.
Although it may not come as a surprise, the four teams remaining in the post season were the top four finishers in the regular season. And although Luleå and Färjestad finished the season with an incredible string of wins, they both now find themselves on the cusp of elimination.
Coming in to the series, the Frölunda Indians had one of the most effective offenses in the post season and they have not slowed down. After four games in the semi finals, the Indians have now score 32 goals in 9 games and given up just 15. With 3 players in the top 6 for points entering the series agains Luleå as well, they had a lot of confidence. Not only has their offence continued to perform in the semi finals, goaltender Johan Mattsson has proved to be nothing short of a brick wall. Mattsson has now posted 2 shutout performances in the first four games, including a 3-0 victory back on Saturday afternoon that gave Frölunda a stranglehold on the series. The Indians now carry a 3 games to 1 advantage heading in to Monday nights contest, and with their success at home in the post season, are poised to punch their ticket to the SHL final, which would be their 2nd final appearence in just 4 years. On the other side, if Luleå is able to turn things around mount a comeback to move in to the final round, it would be their first appearence since 2013, and a chance to win their second ever championship and first since 1996.
Although Färjestad, the regular season champs, started their series against Djurgården on the right foot, coming away with a 5-2 victory, they struggled over the next 3 games. Their high flying offence was seemingly put on ice as they managed just 5 goals in their next 3 games, including just 1 goal in both games 3 and 4. However, that certainly wasn't for a lack of chances as they managed to put 61 shots on target in those two games, but Adam Reideborn between the pipes for Djurgården was absolutely stellar. Another problem Färjestad was having over those two games was their lack of production on the man advantage. In the first 2 games of the series, Färjestads powerplay was seemingly unstoppable as they managed 5 goals in just 6 opportunities. However, in games 3 and 4, their powerplay dominance was nowhere to be seen. With the lack of offence, coupled with the play of Adam Reidborn, Djurgården had an opportunity to close out the series on Sunday evening and punch their ticket to the SHL finals, which would be their first finals appearence since 2010. However, Färjestad had different plans.
Game of the Week
Our game of the week came yesterday evening in Karlstad as Djurgården was hoping to send the regular season champs home and move on to the final round.
Färjestads offence, as previously mentioned, struggled to get anything going in the past two games, however they came out firing on all cylinders and were rewarded early in the first frame. Emil Bemström attempted to carry the puck thorugh his own zone, cutting in front of his net he overskated the puck and on the ensuing battle for possesion, Johan Ryno was able to poke the puck past Adam Reideborn to give Färjestad th early lead. They would follow that one up just 23 seconds later as a shot from Mikael Wikstrand was turned aside, but Marcus Nilsson banged home the big rebound to make it 2-0 with less than 3 minutes elapsed in the frame. Färjestads offense continued to produce as they were awarded a man advantage and on the ensuing powerplay, Marcus Nilsson sent it to Johan Ryno at the side of the net for his second of the frame. The 1st period would finish 3-0 in favour of the home town team.
Färjestad would pick up right where they left off in the 1st and Johan Ryno was able to complete the hat trick with about 5 and half minutes elapsed in the frame. He pursued the puck through the neutral zone, forced the turn over and a perfectly placed shot top shelf from in tight made it 4-0. With the tally Adam Reideborn would be pulled and Robin Jensen came in for his first taste of playoff action. Djurgården had a bright spot in the 2nd as Dick Axelsson was able to send one home on the man advantage to pull them back within 3. However, any hope of a comeback they may have had left was almost immediately extinguished. Just over a minute later, Jesse Virtanen was able to beat Jensen with a hard shot along the ice to restore the 4 goal lead.They followed that up just 11 seconds later with a 2 on 1 opportunity sent home by Oskar Steen. They weren't finished however, as a shot from Ilari Melart at the line would be redirected by Alexander Reichenberg with less than 90 seconds remaining in the frame and Farjestad carried the 7-1 lead in to the final frame.
With the largest lead so far this post season, Färjestad was very comfy heading in to the third period and neither team looked all that desperate to score anymore goals. The first 2 periods took almost 45 minutes to play each, as there was a lot of emotion in the game and scrums after the whistle made the periods drag on. Howver, the third was different, not a lot of stoppages, minimal pushing and shoving after the whistle, as both looked as if they were already aware of the outcome of the game. That's not to say there weren't chances, as both teams put pucks towards the net and Oskar Steen was able to make it 8-1 at the 16:10 of the frame. Djurgardens worst playoff loss in club history came against Frölunda back in 2004, and it looked as if they may tie that record in this one. However, Jonathan Davidsson was able to send a shot off Mattias Gutter out front to make it 8-2 late in the frame to at least end the game on a high note.
The win from Färjestad is the biggest win so far in the post season and Djurgården will be looking for retribution on Tuesday night back in Stockholm as they will, once again, have an opportunity to close out the series.