HPK closes gap to playoff spots

HPK closes gap to playoff spots

28 Feb 2015 | Markus Nisius

It is getting cosy among the bold lines in the table of the Finnish Liiga. HPK, HIFK and SaiPa all win their games to make their uphill battles interesting.


With 7 defeats in their last 8 games Hämeenlinna spent most of the time in the last weeks slipping down the standings and so they had to turn things around today if they still want to make the playoffs. But their opponents from Lahti were also fighting for the last chance to keep the hopes alive and so a tight game unfolded, that saw Santeri Saari getting HPK on the scoresheet first on a powerplay midway through the second period. The Pelicans could get back on the very next powerplay through Juha Leimu, who took the shot from the blue line and hit the upper right corner of the net, and so the game was still looking for a winner entering the last period. The game winner for HPK should come with 4 minutes in, when Pelicans goalie Janne Juvonen failed to catch a relatively harmless shot by Eero Somervuori from the far right side of the ice. This goal could not be matched any more by a Lahti offense, which only got 5 shots on goal in the last period and so Juhani Jasu's empty netter finished the game at 3-1 for HPK.

Luckily for HPK both of their rivals for the last spot, that wouldn’t end the season in 2 weeks’ time, lost their games, too, so they could shorten the gap to 5 points now. Ässät lost 3-0 in Oulu, where the latest Kärpät signings emerged to be the game winners: Lukas Kaspar scored twice on setups by Ben Maxwell, while Joonas Donskoi added the third goal. Ilves meanwhile lost 2-4 in Lappeenranta despite the game was kept open by them for a long time.

The early SaiPa lead coming after 2:11 minutes on a powerplay through Sam Lofqvist stood for 21 minutes, but finally Ilves could even the game when Jiri Veistola scored for Tampere. Now the goals came in a 5 minute rhythm: First Chad Rau used the second SaiPa powerplay of the game to regain the lead, while assistants Lofqvist and Dave Spina picked up their second points of the day, and then Saku Salmela equalised it again shortly after Ilves survived the first penalty killing mission of the day. Consequently - similar to the events in Hämeenlinna – the decision had to come in the last period. And Simon Backman could get it for SaiPa at the half time mark of the last period. As Jussi Markkanen could stop all 11 Ilves shots he had to face until the final horn, it was Brian Salcido, who scored the last goal of the day for SaiPa into the empty Ilves net to make it 4-2.

This game was not just important for the fight for the pre-playoff spots, it also had significant impact on the battle to make the direct qualification for the quarterfinals. SaiPa is now even with KalPa in 6th place, who lost 1-2 at home against JYP after squandering a 1-0 lead.

Also back in the race is HIFK thanks to a 3-2 OT win against TPS Turku. In the first period both teams traded powerplay goals, first Turku’s Oskari Siiki after 5 minutes and then Arttu Luttinen for HIFK. The same picture in the second period, but this time with 5-on-5: Mikko Rantanen gets TPS in the lead after 5 minutes and Juuso Puustinen equalises. As the teams skipped scoring goals in the last period it was up to Corey Elkins to bring the extra point to Helsinki with his OT goal after 56 seconds of 4-on-4 ice-hockey. HIFK is now just one point behind KalPa and SaiPa in 8th place and guarantees us 4 more interesting game days.

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