KARLSTAD, Sweden – The puck may bounce in an odd way sometimes, and a hot goalie and a pair of bad calls can get you far, but when you go 12-1 in the playoffs, there’s hardly room for argument. That team just was better than the rest.
In Sweden, that team was once again Färjestad Karlstad. Färjestad beat HV71 Jönköping 3-2 in Game 5 of the Elitserien finals on Wednesday and claimed the eighth championship in the club history, finishing the season with the 18th straight win at home in Löfbergs Lila Arena.
The Karlstad club has now been in the final seven times since the turn of the century, and won three Swedish titles in that time.
With great success, comes greater expectations that seem impossible to meet at times.
Sure, they didn’t really blow away any of their opponents – but they swept Brynäs Gävle in the quarterfinals and Skellefteå in the semi-finals.
Yes, HV71’s goaltender Stefan Liv’s highlight reel of saves is the length of a feature film, but Jonas Gustavsson was the one with six shutouts, a new record, a penalty shootout save in Game 4 of the final, and a save percentage of over 96 percent.
And no, they didn’t go unbeaten like in 2002, but they did play 13 games with a 46-15 goal difference. In the playoffs. This year’s edition has been as impressive as the 2002 one, losing only the first game of the final series. Something that happens even to the best.
While everybody’s been gushing about HV71’s ability to rise from the zombiehood, having been down 3-1 in games in its quarterfinal against Timrå, and turning it around, then being down 2-1 in the semi-final against Frölunda, then winning two straight games in Gothenburg and clinch the series at home, Färjestad beat them even at that.
In Game 4 in Karlstad, HV71 took a 2-0 lead, and nursed it until 56:02 when Jonas Holös sent a blistering slapshot from the point, and beat HV71 goaltender Stefan Liv to take the game to overtime. Sixteen minutes into OT, Jesper Mattsson robbed HV71 captain Johan Davidsson at the faceoff point, passed the puck to Martin Sevc at the point and Martin Holtet deflected Sevc’s shot past Liv.
A comeback like that by any other team would have made the ten o’clock news, but for Färjestad, it’s almost just “taking care of business.” Almost.
Of all the Swedish big clubs, Färjestad is the biggest.
“We have a great tradition in the club, and we’ve built a will to be the best in every situation,” Färjestad’s GM Thomas Rundqvist said to IIHF.com earlier this season.
“We’ve also had an excellent core group of players for many years, guys like Jörgen Jönsson, Thomas Rhodin, Peter Nordström, Mathias Johansson, Pelle Prestberg, and others, to build our teams around. For me, the biggest challenge will be to build a similar core,” he says.
That much is true.
Johansson - most games in Färjestad sweater - and Prestberg are no longer with the club, and Jönsson announced his retirement after the last final. Rhodin and Nordström will most likely continue their careers, but both are in the last years of their contracts, and anything is possible. Rhodin even hinted at playing somewhere else next season, while 34-year-old Nordström is mum about his plans. Except that he’d like to play.
In the playoffs, the greybeards have shown that they’ve still got it. Nordström and Jönsson, together with their linemate, 22-year-old Per Åslund, were the team’s leading scorers. The line was +12 in the playoffs, getting scored on only once, even if their ice time was limited, at around 14 minutes per game.
In the regular season, Nordström played only 27 games and collected 13 points. In the playoffs, he scored 5+4=9 points in 13 games – and 3+4=7 points in the five final matches.
Jönsson, plagued by back problems, played 42 games but stayed at 20 points. In the playoffs, he, too, collected nine points in 13 games.
In the last final game, the line gave Färjestad 2-0 in the first period with two power-play goals. 1-0: Granak, assisted by Nordström and Rhodin. 2-0: Jönsson, assisted by Nordström and Åslund. The game winning goal, 3-1, was scored by Eero Somervuori, the Finnish sniper who was tied for lead in team goal scoring in the post-season.
As Nordström said it, “it’s not enough to have one line, or even 15, 16 guys that work hard and play well, you really need all 23 guys to win the Swedish championship.”
Not everybody believed in Färjestad in early November when the team was seventh in the standings.
“I knew it would take some time until the team, with so many new players, would gel. Our late additions, Dick Axelsson (from Djurgården) and Marcus Paulsson (from Malmö) gave us more depth,” said Rundqvist.
“Of course, it was a tough period in November when the fans’ and media’s expectations were high. Our lack of scoring may also have affected some players but at the same time, we knew it was just a matter of time,” he adds.
The tough times are behind them now, as the championship parade awaits at Karlstad’s Stora Torget (The Big Square).
The mayor of Karlstad can send a press release about its route. It will be “the usual”.Notebook:
- HV71’s Stefan Liv faced more rubber than any other goalie in the playoffs. The 28-year-old goaltender turned away 510 pucks in 18 games.
- For Färjestad head coach Tommy Samuelsson the final was his 13th. The last five of them as a coach. All with Färjestad. It was his fifth Swedish championship.
- Färjestad’s other coach Per-Erik Johnsson was behind the bench in 2006 when Färjestad last won the championship.
- HV71’s Martin Thörnberg won the scoring title in the post-season with 10+3=13 points in 18 games.
- For HV71, this was the first time it lost an Elitserien final. The club’s previous three finals (1995, 2004, and 2008) ended in titles.
- Färjestad team captain Rikard Wallin sent Jörgen Jönsson to accept the Le Mat trophy. The next ones to hoist the trophy were Nordström, Rhodin, and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.