‘07 national championship begins with eight teams in action
The postseason has arrived in Finland for 2007-born teams. Tournament play will kick off this week with four best-of-3 series to determine who will move on. Winners of these matchups will be tasked with going up against the top-tier clubs that earned first-round byes following regular-season play. Those teams were No. 1 Kiekko-Espoo, No. 2 Tappara, No. 3 Ilves and No. 5 Jokerit.
TPS, K-Espoo CH face off for first time
At no point during the regular season did No. 8 TPS or Kiekko-Espoo Ch play each other. That will change, as they will begin their three-game series this Wednesday.
TPS has been a mainstay in the Top 10 of Finland for most of this season. They have consistently gone up against the premier clubs in the country, making the cut to carry on their schedule into the SM Series. Going 17-7-0 in the qualifying series, they followed that up by going 8-8-0 in the SM Series, totaling a 25-15-0 record in group play.
The dynamic trio of Olli Wahlroos (33G, 35A), Wilmer Kallio (21G, 40A) and Jesse Pärssinen (22G, 28A) have done the heavy lifting on offense.
Following the opening qualifying series with a record of 10-14-0 , K-Espoo CH did not make the cut for the SM Series. As a result, they were placed in the lower continuation series with teams such as JYP, TuTo, and Sport. It was in this group where the club went 10-6-0. Aku-Wilhelmi Lindroos collected 15 goals and 25 points to become the second-best point getter in the group. In total, he amassed 24 goals and 41 points this season over 42 games. Goaltender Eetu Virrane also compiled a respectable .925 save percentage and 2.08 goals-against average.
Series Prediction: This has the makings of a mismatch, with TPS possessing stronger scoring depth throughout its lineup. While impressive, I doubt Lindroos alone can will his team to a series win here. TPS sweep 2-0.
KalPa, JYP clash in cross-group series
Much like TPS and K-Espoo Ch, No. 10 KalPa and JYP have not dropped the puck against the other this season. The two teams will get a chance to make up for lost time when the playoffs begin this week.
KalPa has played the top competition of its birth year quite close, often losing to many of the higher-ranked teams by a goal or two. They have also had No. 4 Kärpät’s number, beating them in two games. Topi Veteläinen has been a consistent source of offense, with 30 goals and 56 points in 37 games. JYP will counter with Eelis Sinivuori and his 14 goals and 39 points.
Series Prediction: Both teams have had to battle to get where they are. KalPa going up against the best of its birth year and JYP scratching and clawing its way to one of the top two coveted spots in the lower continuation group. It’s two desperate teams that have been playing playoff-style hockey for several weeks already. I could see this one going the distance, with KalPa edging out the series win.
HIFK aims for revenge against Lukko
No. 6 Lukko and No. 7 HIFK have familiarity with one another. These teams have played twice during the SM-eries schedule, with Lukko taking both games by scores of 3-0 and 10-7. But HIFK is no stranger to adversity, needing to come up with big wins in its final two games of the season to secure a playoff spot.
Comparing their records in group play, they could not be closer. Lukko has skated to 26-14-0, with HIFK comes in at 26-15-0. In the shutout victory, three different skaters tallied goals for Lukko, with Sakari Vatka recording a goal and an assist. Jooa Sammalniemi turned aside 28 shots for the shutout. In the goal-scoring explosion in their next meeting, seven skaters recorded at least two points for Lukko.
With HIFK’s attack joining the conversation, six skaters on its end also put up multi-point performances. Matias Vanhanen stood out, collecting two goals and two assists. Vanhanen was among one of the best scorers in the SM-Series with nine goals and 25 points. Altogether, he totaled 26 goals and 74 points in 40 games for HIFK. Jarel Tukiainen, leading scorer for Lukko in the SM-Series, has garnered seven goals and 23 points. To date collectively this season, he has 27 goals and 68 points to his name.
Series Prediction: While HIFK has demonstrated it can find the net against Lukko, Sammalniemi was not in net for that 10-7 game. If he is in the crease for Lukko, HIFK will have a long series trying to get pucks past him. Statistically, Sammalniemi was the best goaltender during SM-Series play, with a .919 save percentage and 2.89 goals-against average. I see HIFK sneaking a win here, but goaltending pushes Lukko to the series victory.
Kärpät hopes to continue winning ways versus Ässät
No. 4 Kärpät and No. 9 Ässät met once during the regular season, but it was a game that went the distance. Following regulation, which saw both teams trade goals back and forth for its entirety, no winner was determined in overtime either. Aleksi Tynkilä would grab the winning goal in a shootout to determine a winner. He was the eighth shooter off the bench and secured the 4-3 win for Kärpät.
Team depth is important at this juncture of the season, and these two sides possess a wealth of it. Kärpät’s roster is made up of six players with 10 or more points, whereas Ässät has five. Special teams have been a struggle for both as well, with only four power-play goals from each. Kärpät has also allowed the second-most power-play goals in the SM-Series with 19.
Luukas Koski will try to add to his season total of 21 goals and 46 points for Ässät. The clear leader by five points for Kärpät is Urho Mattila. In 27 games, he has racked up 13 goals and 34 points.
Series Prediction: This might be the most even series of the opening-round matchups. Special teams will be crucial, and if Ässät can get its man advantage working, it could make quick work of the opponent. Kärpät wins in three games.
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