The first two seeds in each conference have advanced to the second round of the EURO League playoffs, a round that will feature a battle involving the two Russian teams.
Rugged British Isles battle goes to Edinburgh
Edinburgh beats Dublin in series, 4-3
A spirited battle of Ahearne Division rivals went back and forth across the British Isles until Scotland emerged victorious over Ireland. Wednesday’s final game was decided in a third period that started 4-4. A minute into it, James Neal scored his second of the game and fifth of the playoffs after taking a pass from John Tavares to beat Tim Thomas and make it 5-4 Edinburgh. Then, the Capitals went into a defensive shell in front of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, and despite being outshot 13-3 in the period, they were able to win the game. It was the third straight one-goal win for Edinburgh in the series. Irish police had to make several arrests in the stands after many of the nearly 14,000 fans in Dublin threw objects onto the ice. What appeared to be a half-eaten Shepherd’s pie struck Capitals forward Brandon Dubinsky in the left cheek, prompting him and most of his teammates to threaten to charge the crowd, but order was restored by Dublin forward Phil Kessel, who rounded up the hockey players and pushed them off the ice and into their dressing room. In the game, Dublin took a 4-2 lead in the second period after Cody Franson, Ryan Kesler and Milan Michalek (his 8th of the series) all scored goals. But Andrei Kostitsyn made it a one-goal game and Kyle Wellwood tied it late in the period with his second goal of the night. Kesler was the first star of the game, scoring twice and adding an assist, with 6 shots on goal, 2 hits and 1 blocked shot. As the 5th seed in the conference, Edinburgh will open the second round in Copenhagen Friday morning.
Former Florida Panthers propel Copenhagen
Copenhagen beats Gothenburg in series, 4-3
The President’s Trophy winners had to play seven games to extinguish the pesky Gothenburg Devils, winning 8-4 on Wednesday. Four former Florida Panthers led the way for the Tridents. Forwards Ville Peltonen (2 goals and 1 assist in 10 minutes of ice time), Tomas Fleischmann (1 goal and 2 assists in 12 minutes) and Stephen Weiss (2 goals and 5 shots in 24 minutes) did the damage in the offensive zone, while one-time Panther Roberto Luongo plugged the Copenhagen goal enough to stop 34 of 38 Devils shots. At the other end, veteran Martin Brodeur had a much tougher time of it, allowing 7 goals on 33 shots before being lifted with 16 minutes to go. For Gothenburg, Vinny Lecavalier and Milan Lucic each had 3 assists in the game, but the team’s top goal scorers weren’t able to get going against Copenhagen in the series. For example, Jordan Eberle wasn’t able to score his first goal of the series until late in the third period Wednesday, when the game was already out of reach at 7-2. Teemu Selanne was also held goal-less until Game 7. Eric Staal, Gothenburg’s leading scorer during the regular season, had a downright pitiful playoffs. In the 7 games, he failed to record a single point and was a team-worst minus 6.
Petrograd win sets up ‘Battle for Russia’
St. Petersburg beats Helsinki in series, 4-3
The Red Stars looked shaky at times in the series, but they took control of Game 7 in the second period and iced it away with two Valterri Filppula goals in the third. The first period ended even, with both teams totaling 1 goal and 12 shots. But St. Petersburg pulled ahead in the second on goals by forwards Artem Anisimov (his 3rd of the series) and Blake Wheeler (4th). In the third, Helsinki’s Paul Stastny beat Pekka Rinne for his 3rd of the playoffs to make it a one-goal game, but Filppula tallied his first of two just 35 seconds afterward. Rinne finished with 26 saves and the win, while Helsinki goalie Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves and allowed 5 goals in his final appearance of the season. Helsinki fans seemed especially perturbed by the fact a Finnish goalie beat them while they had a Swede in their net. St. Petersburg players won’t have to pull out their passports for the next series, as they will be travelling to Moscow for games 3 and 4 to face Spartak. The two Russian teams faced each other 6 times during the regular season, but not once in the last 143 days. Moscow won the season series 4-2 with three 5-2 wins and a one-goal win on Nov. 15. Both of St. Petersburg’s wins over Moscow were Rinne shutouts.
McDonald’s inspiring effort not enough for Bern
Munich beats Bern in series, 4-3
Team physicians and trainers seemed to be factors in the series in which the Fox beat the Bears. Patrik Elias, injured early in the series, recovered enough to be the first star in the deciding Game 7, which was played Thursday morning. The Czech scored two goals, one of them tying the game at 2-2 in the first period and the other giving Munich a 4-3 lead in the second period. The Fox remained in the lead the rest of the game. Elias and linemate Joe Thornton both finished with 3 points. Bern, meanwhile, was riddled with injuries throughout the series but nearly persevered anyway. Andy McDonald’s name appeared most often on the injury list and the 35-year-old center gave new meaning to the phrase “playing hurt.” A concussion suffered near the end of the regular season and an undisclosed leg or foot injury hobbled him significantly, but he played nonetheless, leading his team in scoring by recording 4 goals and 6 assists in 7 playoff games. Over the first two seasons of the league, he has 10 goals and 22 points in 18 EURO playoff games. Bern also played without defenseman Tobias Enstrom (missed 5 games), center Sami Pahlsson (missed 4 games) and center Jason Spezza (missed 3 games) and in the middle of the third period of Thursday’s Game 7, winger Mike Cammalleri left the game with a shoulder injury. To add insult to injury – literally – the league message board greeted recently eliminated Bern with the announcement “JASON SPEZZA is ready to play!” this morning. Munich was the beneficiary of great play in the series by defensemen Dan Boyle and Dion Phaneuf. The pair was at the top of the team stats list in plus-minus and hitting and each recorded a goal and at least 3 assists. They were also the top 2 defensemen in the league in terms of plus-minus ratings in the playoff round. The Fox will be without their injured, plus-20 rookie center Talgut Zhailaiov when they open the second round at home against Athens, which also eliminated a Swiss team (Zurich) in the first round. Tim Brent (9 regular season games) will probably be inserted into the lineup to replace Zhailauov. The league’s other Swiss team, Geneva, is the lowest seed still in the playoffs (6th in the Southern Conference). They defeated Bratislava in 6 games and will take a 4-hour flight to Paris today to start their second-round series on Friday. Paris bounced Milan in four straight games of their first-round series.