Färjestads BK blitzed past Skellefteå AIK in five games to win the 2010-11 Elitserien.
Elitserien: It was over almost as soon as it began.
Färjestads BK needed just five games to claim its fourth title in the last five years as it capped off a near-perfect playoff run April 14 by beating Skellefteå for the Swedish hockey crown. The Wolfpack capped their championship run with a 4-1 win in Game 5 on their home ice at the Löfbergs Lila Arena in Karlstad.
Färjestad built a 2-0 first-period on goals from Magnus Nygren and Marius Holtet. After dominating the first period, however, Färjestad ran into an ice wall in SAIK goalie Andreas Hadelov. The Skellefteå net minder steered aside all nice FBK second-period shots as the visitors tightened up on defense.
“To be honest, when we didn’t get an early third goal I got worried,” said Färjestad team president Håkan Loob. “We created so many chances to score in that first period. I thought if we could get an early third goal that it would be over.”
Pelle Prestberg put an end to Loob’s concerns when he scored in the third period to put Färjestad up 3-0. Mikko Lehtonen got Skellefteå on the score board at 15:16 of third period but there was little doubt as to the outcome. Kristoffer Berglund tallied on a power play at 18:32 of the third period and the celebrations began.
“This was an incredible team,” Prestberg said. “We had a lot of players returning this season, and the club seems to find young players as well. The pool gets filled all the time.”
Prestberg, 36, returned to Färjestad after two years with Leksand. Game 5 against Skellefteå was his 600th career game for the Wolfpack. His goal moved him into third all-time in playoff scoring in the Elitserien. Loob, who left Färjestad in the late 1970s to play for Calgary in the NHL, is the No. 2 scorer.
“We brought back a number of players we thought could be very important for us and Pelle was one of them,” Loob said. “They gave us a lot of stability and they understand the kind of pressure that we have here.”
Prestberg joined Rikard Wallin and Kristian Berglund in returning to the club, where they rejoined Dick Axelsson, Marius Holtet, Per Åslund and Emil Kaberg. The 36-year-old Prestberg finished tied for second in the team lead in goals in the playoffs with four—netting three of them in the final series. Wallin led the team in scoring with 13 points in five games.
Färjestad barely broke a sweat in its championship run, going 12-2 in the playoffs. Loob said he believed the team actually hit its stride at just the right time.
“About seven to 10 games from the end of the season we started to find style of play and we just started to build on that,” Loob said. “We had great harmony and winning the first couple of games set the tone for the whole playoffs. It’s hard for any team to beat us, we had so much self-confidence.”
Färjestad opened the playoffs with a five-game series win over Brynäs. Next came AIK and talk of upsets filled the air. AIK knocked off defending champions HV 71 in four straight games before facing Färjestad, and Loob said the Solna team was something of an unknown.
“They gave all of Swedish hockey a scare,” Loob said. “They really came from nowhere and no one gave them a chance against HV 71. I think it was good that we faced them because maybe we might have been less ready and they could’ve upset us. When we played them, we were close to our best.”
Färjestad swept aside AIK then awaited the winner of the Skellefteå-Luleå semifinal. When SAIK won in six games, the Swedish media hyped the fact the top Skellefteå line had a combined 17 points in four games this season against Färjestad. Loob said it was just words.
“You have to have more than just one line,” he said. “You need to get production from the second, third and fourth lines and they really weren’t getting that. We knew if shut down their first line, we would have a good chance.”
Färjestad shut down the SAIK line of Jimmie Ericsson, Erik Forsell and Christian Söderström and rode the red hot goaltending of Cristopher Nihlstorp to its five-game win in the finals.
“It all starts with the goalies,” Loob said. “In 2009 it was Jonas Gustavsson. This year we had two great goalies and when (Alexander) Salak got hurt, Nihlstorp stepped up.”
The final series victory was also revenge for Färjestad, which lost to Skellefteå last year in the first round of the playoffs.
The goal is the ninth for Färjestad and fourth since 2002. It reached in the finals in every season except last year.
“Maybe if you are a real hockey fan you want to see the series go seven games,” Loob said. “Maybe we won too fast, but I think it’s also a sign of just how good we are this year. I don’t know of any team really that has done what we have done.”
Loob also said he believes it’s a sign that that regular season really does have some meaning, even if the pundits got their predictions wrong about Skellefteå’s chances against FBK.
“It’s very difficult to win in the playoffs if you are the three through eight seed,” he said. “In the end it’s always the No. 1 or No. 2 teams. Very rarely I think do both the top seeds lose before the finals.”
Färjestad finished the regular season as the No. 2 seed after losing the regular-season crown to HV 71 on goal difference. Once the playoffs began, however, there was no stopping the Wolfpack.
by Chipp Reid