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European prospect report: everyone is in the finals

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Almost everyone, Jesse Puljujärvi is settling for third place, but the action is getting tense in Russia and Sweden, and Patrik Laine, Andreas Johnson and Nikita Zaitsev are all going for the cup—just not the same cup.

Andreas Johnson

Skellefteå, the top ranked team in the SHL, won their semifinal the day after Frölunda took theirs, giving them home ice advantage in the contest for the Le Mat Trophy. Game one of the final was played on Saturday, April 16.

The game was the tightest checking game Frölunda has had to play so far, and they responded at first with a very effective forecheck that gave them an early goal.

Skellefteå don't back down, and the game got tougher to play with scoring chances not coming easy for either side. Andreas Johnson, Robin Figren and Johan Sundström struggled more than some others to work through and get shots, and they were held off the scoreboard again.

In a game marked by one disallowed goal for each team—and maybe they both should have counted—the score ended up 4-3 after a dramatic finish. Frölunda got the go-ahead goal to make it 3-2, padded it with a tricky shot to get an empty-net goal and then gave up one with thirty seconds left. They may have learned the lesson that Skellefteå don't give up any more than they do themselves. They nearly learned it the hard way.

The action moved to Frölunda's home rink on Sunday and it was another bad day for the home side.

While Frölunda were dominant in overall shots, they were not getting chances, while Skellefteå was capitalizing on theirs very well. Final score was 4-1, and the series is tied 1-1.

Johnson showed off some skill on this move in game two, but that's his biggest highlight of the first two games:

Nikita Zaitsev

Game four of the KHL final was played on Wednesday, April 13. It was a tense, defence-first game and was decided by one goal for Metallurg, tying the series at two games each.

The trend of Zaitsev playing top minutes and shooting more than any other defenceman continued in this game.

Game five went on Friday and Metallurg took this one as well on two goals by Sergei Mozyakin. CSKA's opening goal in this game was their lone goal in six and a bit periods of play. Their biggest weapon—their top line offence—wasn't firing.

Zaitsev did not look fabulous on the overtime winner for Metallurg:

The win put Metallurg up 3-2 with the action moving to Magnitogorsk. For the first time in the playoffs, CSKA looked beatable, and Metallurg had all the advantages.

With game six a must-win for CSKA on Sunday, they made the Metallurg ice all theirs until the 54 minute mark. They led 2-0, looked like their old selves rolling along, and the coach had started to rest some of his top players.

Metallurg scored a goal that Mozyakin had a hand in, and he is a master at late game heroics, having scored both in game five after the 55 minute mark.

Zaitsev came back on the ice, and CSKA tried to lock it down, killing a delay of game penalty and getting the clock down to under two minutes. With the goalie pulled and the extra man in Alex Semin on the ice, Mozyakin dished it to Jan Kovar and the game was tied.

Less than two minutes into overtime, Mikhail Yunkov, the fourth liner who had opened the scoring, won it for CSKA, tied the series at three games all and forced a game seven on Tuesday in Moscow. Yunkov had one goal and one assist in the regular season. That's playoff hockey!

Win or lose, Tuesday's game will likely be Zaitsev's last for his home club. But he should get strong consideration for the Russian team for the World Championships that begins two weeks after the Gagarin Cup is awarded. He won't have to go far, Russia plays its opening games in Moscow in the new arena that is home to rival Dynamo Moscow.

Patrik Laine

After their defeat of Kärpät in the semis, Laine and Tappara moved on to the finals in the Liiga against Helsingin IFK.

An interesting bit of trivia is that the cup is called Kanada-malja or Canada bowl since it was donated by Finnish-Canadians in 1951.

Game one was played on Friday, April 15, and HIFK shut out Tappara 4-0.

Game two was played the next day, Saturday, and Tappara opened the scoring halfway through. HIFK answered back in the third period, and the game became a tense back and forth that seemed destined for overtime until Patrik Laine won a board battle, got the puck in play and Tappara had the go ahead goal. Final score: 2-1 Tappara, and the series was tied at one game each.

Video of that final goal is at the end of the highlight reel.

Game three goes Tuesday, April 19.

Jesse Puljujärvi

Puljujärvi's Kärpät side played in the bronze medal game against JYP on Friday as well. This is a single match between the losers of the two semifinals to determine who comes third.

JYP opened the scoring with one each in the first and the second, and you could forgive a disappointed team for packing it in and saying, who cares about bronze. Kärpät cared. Puljujärvi cared. He scored one in the third, had an assist on the tying goal less than a minute later, and then Kärpät scored again to take bronze with an amazing comeback.

Puljujärvi's goal video is worth a look.

After the game it was announced that Puljujärvi is heading to Grand Forks, North Dakota to take part in the IIHF U18 tournament that is underway.