Färjestad swept aside AIK to reach the finals of the Elitserien playoffs while Skellefteå and Luleå were level at 2-2 in their best-of-7 series.
It didn’t take Färjestad long to put its claims on the empty Swedish hockey throne.
After knocking off Brynäs in its opening series 4-1, the Wolfpack swept aside upstarts AIK in the semifinals, clinching its spot in the finals March 27 with a 2-1 win over the Gnaget at the Stockholm Globe Arena.
AIK was the surprise of the playoffs as it knocked off defending champions HV 71 in four straight games in the first round. The Gnaget had a six-game winning streak as they entered the semis against Färjestad but it didn’t matter. The Wolfpack, who missed the playoffs last year after a run of 10 straight years, had no intention of becoming AIK’s latest scalp.
It wasn’t easy. AIK took the lead in each of the four games, but could never get the decisive goal to put away Färjestad. That inability haunted AIK throughout the series, especially in Game 4. The Gnaget took a first-period lead but watched as the Wolfpack closed ranks and used its experience to send AIK packing.
Daniel Rudslätt gave AIK an early lead when he tallied just 1:11 into the game. Veteran defenseman Dick Axelsson tied the game at 12:34 of the first period. Per Åslund, another FBK veteran player, put the Wolfpack on top at 16:50 of the first period when he beat AIK goalie Victor Fasth on a penalty shot.
From there on, the game was a duel between Fasth and Färjestad net minder Cristopher Nihlstorp, a duel Nihlstorp won. Nihlstorp stopped 24 straight shots to help send the Wolfpack to the finals.
The key to Färjestad’s triumph was its ability to do what HV 71 could not – beat Victor Fasth. The AIK goalie entered the semis with a miniscule 1.50 goals against average. After surrendering a pair of goals in AIK’s Game 1 loss, Fasth suddenly became human. The Wolfpack won Games 2 and 3 by 4-2 scores to put AIK’s back to the wall. Fasth came up with 17 saves in Game 4, but it wasn’t enough to extend the Gnaget’s season.
Skellefteå, Luleå deadlocked in series
It looks as though the Skellefteå-Lueå semifinals could go the distance. After dropping the first two games in overtime, Skellefteå rallied to take Games 3 and 4 in overtime and draw level, the latest win coming March 27 at the Coop Arena in Luleå.
Erik Forsell scored 4:56 into overtime to give SAIK the win. Christian Söderström gave Skellefteå the lead at 17:13 of the third period but Pierre Johnsson tied the scored with 12 seconds left in regulation time.
Forsell also scored the winner in Game 3, this 12:13 into regulation. Once more the third period saw all the regulation-time scoring as Jonas Berglund fired Luleå into the lead at 9:23 of the period. Forsell scored the equalizer seven minutes later.
The opening two games also came to the wire as Lulea claimed a pair of overtime wins. Anders Burström scored the game winner at 13:39 of overtime to give Luleå a 4-3 win in Game 1. Simon Hjalmarsson netted the winner at 11:15 of the extra session to lead Luleå to a 4-3 in Game 2.
The series continued March 29 as the two teams met at the Skellefteå Kraft Arena.
by Chipp Reid