After just squeaking into the playoffs, AIK is suddenly playing like the team to beat in the Elitserien.
It looks like the players and coaches at AIK heard all the whispers that the Gnaget didn’t belong in the Elitserien playoffs.
Sure, AIK won its last two regular-season games to open the door to hockey’s second season, but the Solna team needed a lot of help to actually claim the eighth and final playoff spot. AIK defeated Linköping March 3 and Modo on March 5 to put itself in position to sneak into eighth place. However, AIK still needed Timrå, Frölunda, Södertälje and Modo to lose at least once, and every team obliged.
AIK finished with 76 points and its struggles in its first season back in the elitserien made it look like easy pickings come the playoffs. Regular season and defending league champions HV 71 certainly thought so as the Blue Bulls picked AIK as their first-round opponent. In retrospect, maybe not the best decision.
AIK has reeled off three consecutive wins in the playoffs, the latest coming March 11, as the Gnaget has the defending champions on the brink of early elimination. The three wins extended AIK’s winning streak to five. Key to the run has been the play of goaltender Victor Fasth. The 29-year-old Fasth has sparkled between the pipes, allowing just six goals in those five games. He registered a shutout in Game 2 of the playoffs against HV 71.
AIK opened the playoffs with a 4-2 win over HV 71 March 7 at the Kinnarps Arena in Stockholm. Jonas Liwing scored twice while Daniel Bang had a goal and an assist to lead the Gnaget to the win. Game 2 was all Fasth as the AIK goalie stopped all 34 shots he faced to lead the Gnaget to a 3-0 victory at the Hovet in Jönköping. Kent McDonnell, Patrik Blomdahl and Stefan Johansson scored for AIK. The teams returned to the Kinnarps Arena for Game 3 where McDonnell and Johansson each scored to help AIK claim a 3-1 lead. Fasth made 40 saves, including 17 in the third period.
The two teams met March 15 in a do-or-die game for HV 71.
by Chipp Reid