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European Report: Playoffs can be fleeting

Tomorrow, Carl Grundström starts his playoff run; for others, it’s already over.

Christian Bonin | TSGPhoto.com

Carl Grundström

The first week of the SHL playoffs is devoted to the four lowest-ranked playoff teams contesting two quarterfinal spots, so Carl Grundström has been doing this all week:

They begin their quarterfinal against Mälmo on Monday.

Yegor Korshkov

I said last week that Lokomotiv had virtually no chance against SKA in their second round playoff series. SKA is so stacked with players this year, as the foundational club for the Olympic team, that they look totally unbeatable by any team outside the NHL.

In the first game, SKA totally controlled the game. They scored their first goal in the first minute; they dominated on the power play and at even strength, and they neutralized the Lokomotiv power play very effectively. Their goalie is huge and good enough for the KHL, and that’s that. They took it 4-0.

I got to see a lot of Yegor Korshkov on the PK, where he seems very good. He’s fast on his feet, very much so for his height, which is listed at 6’4”. With height comes reach, and a longer stick, which adds up to a very good PK forward. He plays the power play as well, and moves the puck very well.

In the second game, SKA looked like they’d read their own press, and did not come out as strong as they did before. After a very tumultuous first period full of penalties, the score was 1-0 for SKA. In the final two minutes, Korskov took a penalty for checking from behind that came with a 10 minute misconduct, both deserved. He’d gotten into it with Patrick Thoersen prior to that, a veteran and former NHLer, so he’s not shy.

Lokomotiv decided to play the final two periods, instead of be angry, and it worked for them. They scored two unanaswered goals, and held on through the third period once SKA started to make an effort.

The series stands at one game all, but I don’t think SKA is going to give a gift like that again. Game three is on Monday.

Pierre Engvall

It was the best of times and the worst of times for Pierre Engvall. He and HV71 were in the play-in vs Linköping to get one of the lower two seeds in the quarterfinals. This round is a best of three series, and that means there is very little margin for error.

HV71, the defending champion, is not the team it was last year. We took Andreas Borgman, the Sharks took Filip Sandberg, and two of their top forwards by points moved to other teams, one in the KHL. Your reward in the SHL for winning is to get picked clean in the summer.

Which is exactly how Engvall got a job on the team in his first year in the SHL at 21. Leading up to the playoffs, he’s crept up the lineup, but for game one, he was back on the fourth line RW. His line were on fire, however. They were always in the offensive zone, always getting chances, and no coach (who isn’t Russian) is going to just play the other guys over the hot line. They played the most minutes in the game, and got the only goal, scored by Engvall, as they lost 3-1.

Game two became a must-win for HV71 with that loss. It started very oddly, with some shenanigans in the warmup that turned into a full on pushing and shoving session. There is talk of suspensions, but Engvall, who was reported to be in on the early vocal sparring, didn’t get involved in the physical stuff.

HV71 played as hard as they could, the standout was Bill Sweatt, who seemed driven. But they just aren’t enough of a team. Top points man Lawrence Pilut was knocked out of the game on a late-ish hit by same guy who was stirring things up in warmpup (the Swedish Brad Marchand)m and that was that. Linköping won it 3-2.

After the game, Sweatt, who is not yet 30, said he’s considering retiring, although he’ll look around in America for opportunities. He sounded very down in the interview, and I’ve always considered him a great SHL player, hugely successful in a league where he doesn’t need to be claiming the six feet in height he doesn’t have. He said that the whole experience has been a frustrating inability to win anything. Things look different from the inside than the outside.

Sirens should go off in the NHL for Sweatt, who would be an asset to any AHL team, and for Pilut, a small, young undrafted defender, who is worth a look. (He’s a lefty.) Pilut’s father is American, from Detroit, but he played his whole, long career in Tyngsryds, a club on the border between the Allsvenskan and Division I. He’s the assistant coach there now. Someone is signing Pilut the younger for sure.

As for Engvall, he’s under contract with HV71 next season, and he might just climb the internal ladder a bit. In the short term, the Leafs may bring him over this spring or summer, so we’ll see how that goes. I’d love to see him on the Marlies now that he’s tasted top-level play in Sweden.

Jesper Lindgren

In case you missed it, Jesper Lindgren is with the Marlies, having finished his season in the Liiga with no playoffs. He hasn’t played yet, but seems game-ready. Unfortunately he’s a righty, so we won’t get the fun of a Liljegren - Lindgren pairing.

It’s going to be tough for him to get a lot of game time, I think. The Marlies are not short of defenders, and Calle Rosen, for example is the PK specialist, while Andreas Borgman is supposed to be learning it. Lindgren is more of a power play man, anyway, so as a sub in for Liljegren he’s only a few letters off and can do the same sorts of things. He might get a shot in the next three-in-three they play.

Nikolai Chebykin

Playing on the best team in the VHL is working out great for Nikolai Chebykin in the playoffs. His team is cruising in the quarterfinals, up 3-1, and he had a goal and an assist this week. I’m not sure I see him in the KHL on other than a depth role, which is a frustrating Josh Leivo-esque existence on many teams. But he’s clearly got the stuff for the VHL.

Vladimir Bobylyov

Vladimir Bobylyov’s team was swept out of the junior league finals, although he did have one goal in the second-last game. He didn’t play in the last game. The VHL team for his club is down two games to one in the quarterfinal, so he could be brought back to that team, but it seems unlikely.

Vladislav Kara

Vladislav Kara was also sent back to junior for the playoffs. His team is knotted up at two games all in their first round series, and he’s on a point per game pace with one goal and three assists in four games, including a three point game in their most recent win. They got blown out massively in game one, but they’ve come back hard.


Persons of Interest

Igor Ozhiganov: As predicted CSKA left him off the roster against Jokerit in their first game. He drew in for game two as the seventh defender, and he played six minutes in an easy win for his team.


Next week will see the KHL conference semifinals go to at least game six, which was all the first round needed to finish every series. The SHL playoffs finish game four of the quarterfinals next Sunday, as they aren’t playing as compressed a schedule as the KHL is.