Fans of the Stockholm Eagles and Munich Dire Wolf have to wait a little while longer to learn if their teams will have home ice advantage as the fourth seeds in their conferences.
One of the highlights of the first round of the EURO playoffs will be the All Sweden Series that will pit Stockholm against Gothenburg. The only question remaining is which coastline will host Games 1 and 2. The Eagles currently have a slim, one-point lead over Frolunda, but Gothenburg will have two chances to gain the two points they need to overtake Stockholm. Tonight, they will travel to Moscow to face a healthy and rested Spartak team. Gothenburg is 3-2 versus Moscow this season. On Thursday, it’s back home to host the Bern Bears. Mikael Backlund, Gothenburg’s third-line center who grew up not far from Stockholm in Vasteras, will miss both games due to an injury. Taking his place will be former fourth-liner Louis Leblanc, and statistically, Leblanc is definitely not a step down. The 25-year-old has been a real contributor to Frolunda’s season and could be one of its most underrated players. He has 10 goals and 21 points with an outstanding takeaway-to-giveaway ratio of 60-37. He has also delivered a lot of hits and blocked a lot of shots in his limited ice time. Unfortunately, Leblanc has also taken a lot of penalties, with his 52 penalty minutes putting him fourth among forwards on the team. Taking Leblanc’s former spot on the fourth line is Chris Kelly, who at age 36 adds experience and a good dose of leadership to the lineup.
Just in time for the playoffs, Moscow has gotten veteran blueliner Brian Campbell off waivers from the Dublin Fighting Irish. Earlier this season, Moscow waived Campbell and he was claimed by Dublin. The 37-year-old has played only 16 games this season and 42 over the last two seasons, but offers Spartak an option with lots of playing experience.
Over in the Southern Conference, Munich fans have their eyes on tonight’s match-up in Slovakia between Athens and Bratislava. They are really hoping for the Eagles’ Marc-Andre Fleury to shutdown Athens, because if the Greeks win, they will jump over Munich and steal fourth in the conference. Both Bratislava and Athens will be missing a veteran forward tonight. The Eagles’ Jonathan Toews is coming off an extended injury and will be rested for the playoffs. Jason Pominville of Athens is out with an upper body injury. The Greeks and Eagles have faced each other five times this season with Bratislava winning three times. If they win tonight, Bratislava has a chance of moving ahead of Lisbon and into sixth place. Lisbon will host Paris tonight. Lisbon needs the two points to assure themselves of sixth place.
In that game in Portugal, Evgeny Malkin will have a little extra incentive to score goals. He is two shy of the 50-goal mark. Logan Couture of Berlin will need a hat trick in Madrid to accomplish the same feat. Nicklas Backstrom of Minsk finished his season with 51 goals and a league-leading 128 points. He is part of a Minsk foursome that is dominating the league’s individual statistics. Teammate Patrick Kane should finish as the league leader in plus-minus (+61), while Hussar defenseman Michael Del Zotto should be the league’s leader among defensemen in four key categories – goals, assists, points and plus/minus. On top of that, Minsk’s Carey Price has the best goalie averages, most shutouts and most wins.
Trivia answer: Seven of the eight non-playoff teams clog the bottom of the stats page when it’s sorted by goals per game average. Only Prague (3.20 goals per game) has a relatively good average. In fact, they are currently tied for seventh in the league in that stats category. Among playoff teams, the lowest goals per game averages are owned by the Swedish teams. Gothenburg is scoring 3.08 goals per game and Stockholm is scoring 3.04 goals per game.