Bubble teams, automatic byes and other important matchups at stake entering the final weekend of regular season
With the U16 SM Series coming to a close this weekend, 2007-born Finnish youth hockey teams are taking part in their last contests of group play. All clubs in action have spots in the WHH rankings, and with this many head-to-head matchups, there could be some major movement in the standings as playoff positions become finalized.
Who will receive a first-round bye?
The top four teams in the group standings will be awarded first-round byes. As a reminder, a team received three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win and one point for an overtime loss. No. 2 Tappara currently holds the first spot in the SM Series standings with 42 points. They have one game remaining against No. 5 Ilves, who sits with 37 points. Back on Feb. 4th, Ilves defeated Tappara 5-4 off multi-point performances by Rasmus Rinne (1G, 3A), Jiko Laitinen (2G, 1A) and Jalmari Melanen (1G, 2A). If Tappara is victorious, it will clinch the first overall spot. However, should they lose and Ilves also defeats No. 3 Kärpät, they would overtake Tappara. Ilves put up 13 goals on Kärpät in a 13-1 win earlier this season.
Looking to cement their position in the fourth seed will be No. 8 Jokerit. Their lone remaining tilt is a date with Jokipojat, who has yet to win a group-play game. Sitting just outside the bye cutoff is No. 7 TPS with 23 points. They have a final clash with No. 1 Kiekko-Espoo to end their schedule. TPS has already won against K-Espoo in a 3-2 result back on Jan. 13th. If TPS defeats them again, and Jokerit fails to defeat Jokipojat, TPS would leapfrog Jokerit into the final bye spot. If K-Espoo is able to avenge its earlier season loss to TPS, it would solidify the final bye position for Jokerit.
Sorting out potential first-round matchups
With the top five spots seemingly decided by the teams mentioned above, the 6 through 12 seeds are where the most movement might occur after this weekend. No. 4 Lukko currently sits at sixth with 19 points, tied with No. 9 Ässät. Lukko’s remaining game just so happens to be against Ässät, who they defeated 4-2 in their previous matchup. If Ässät wins that second game and manages to secure a win over No. 6 HIFK, they could very well end up in the fifth spot barring results from Jokerit and TPS’ games.
Should Topi Veteläinen (10G, 10A) and Okko Saari (10G, 7A) continue to lead No. 10 KalPa, they could take a run at moving from the ninth to fifth seed. With upcoming matchups against the Pelicans and Jokipojat, two clubs who they have beaten previously, things are looking good. A lot of things would need to fall their way, but the only thing they can do is win the games presented to them. With their track record against their final opponents, there is a decent chance they enjoy a bump up the standings when the dust settles.
No. 3 Kärpät looks to take advantage of their upcoming slate of games to try and boost their resume and spot in the standings. Kärpät can end up as high as fifth, by securing two wins over the Pelicans and Ilves. To date, they have beaten the Pelicans and lost to Ilves.
Pelicans, HIFK aim for final spot
Jockeying for the 10th and final playoff spot will be the Pelicans and HIFK, both currently holding 15 points to their name. The Pelicans edged HIFK 2-1 at the end of February, giving them the current standings tiebreaker. The Pelicans end their regular season with two tough matchups against Kärpät and KalPa. With two losses to those clubs already, it seems HIFK is primed to overtake them given the strength of their remaining matches. HIFK will face off with K-Espoo, who they shut out 3-0 and Ässät, who they fell to 5-1. Having such large implications looming for those two teams, expect them to go all out to secure their spot in the postseason.
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