Liiga Review: Rookie goaltenders Nick Malik and Joel Blomqvist turned out as the biggest assets in the playoffs

LIIGA / Artikkeli
KooKoo's Nick Malík has become the hottest player in the playoffs.
Kuva © Saimi Airaksinen /

Liiga quarterfinals finished last week, with three of the four series going into game sevens. Out of the match-ups Tappara, KooKoo, Ilves and TPS advanced to the semifinals.

Due to the upcoming World Championships in Tampere and Helsinki starting in early May, the league is working on a very fast-paced schedule. As a result, the teams won't have much time to rest between games or the series, and someone might be running out of gas in the semifinals.

The downfall of the reigning champion

Whereas the other three series had to be settled in game sevens, regular season winner Tappara only needed five games to eliminate last season's champion Lukko.

This was the ninth consecutive year that Tappara made it to the semifinals. The team has been one of the biggest triumphs in the league for years, often making appearances in the finals and winning championships.

Anton Levtchi's strong regular season has continued in the playoffs, as in the five games he assisted six goals. Late acquisition, Montréal Canadiens prospect, Otto Leskinen has been an excellent addition to the team's blue line and asset in the scoring department.

Lukko did manage to give Tappara a hard time in the series, but it seemed like their top players were left in the shadows. The former Florida Panthers prospect Sebastian Repo only had one assist, and 2019 World Champion Arttu Ilomäki had no points.

First-timers at Liiga quarterfinals

Jukurit became one of the favorites to win the championship after finishing second in the regular season and clinching the playoffs for the first time in their history. But KooKoo, who as well was making their first appearance in the quarterfinals, had other thoughts.

It was KooKoo's young Czech goaltender Nick Malík who came in the way of the playoffs euphoria continuing in Mikkeli. Throughout the seven game series, Malík blocked at least 200 shot attempts by Jukurit, whom had suffered from inefficient goal-scoring the entire season, to begin with.

After a brutal 1−5 loss at home and KooKoo taking a 3−2 series lead, Jukurit needed to improve their defensive game to keep themselves in the running. Goaltender Oskari Salminen had been the team's number one throughout season and in the playoffs. Yet, in the do or die moment, it was Karolus Kaarlehto's turn to step in.

Goaltending change may have worked to get them in game seven, but it was Malík's hot streak that put an end to their season.

Kärpät may have been eliminated, but Joel Blomqvist deserves all the praise.
Kuva © Sirpa Pöyhönen -

A game that lasted two days

Coming into the series, no one was going to expect a walk in the park for either Ilves or Kärpät. And it was evident with all, expect for the first game, ending up being just one-goal games.

Kärpät's Russian goaltender Stanislav Galimov was supposed be their number one in the playoffs, but his save percentage in the two games that he played in was horrific 54,55. This meant it was the rookie goaltender, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, Joel Blomqvist's time to step in and help his team.

When the sixth game in Oulu came around, the series was 3−2 for Ilves and they could have advanced to the semifinals with the win, but things got a little crazy.

After 10 minutes of play, the game was paused due to an advert peeking through the ice. After nearly two hours of trying to fix the ice, the game was postponed to continue the next day.

Kärpät seemingly took advantage of the chaos with a 2−1 win, and taking the series to game seven.

The other two game sevens played on the same time both ended in regulation, but Ilves−Kärpät kept being a thriller. Nearly 12 minutes into the overtime, forward Petri Kontiola was given a chance for a breakaway, and the 37-year-old experienced veteran didn't miss that chance and led his team to victory.

The flaming hot first line

One of the most heated playoff match-ups happened between TPS and HIFK. Several of the seven games were heavily penalty ridden and three players were suspended throughout the series.

HIFK entered the series without their head coach Ville Peltonen, who had gotten covid right before the playoffs. Peltonen didn't return until game six.

The team's starting goaltender Canadian Michael Garteig's season was over before the playoffs, leaving the youngsters Niilo Halonen and Roope Taponen between the pipes. Both of them had less than 90 save percentage in the regular season, so they needed to step up big time to keep the team's playoff dreams alive.

Former Arizona Coyotes prospect Tyler Steenbergen's regular season had been less than stellar as he only scored 7 goals and assisted 10 in 54 games. But to the playoffs, Steenbergen came in blazing, putting up 3 goals and 2 assists in the seven games against HIFK.

TPS's youth shined throughout the series. The first line made out of NHL prospects Markus Nurmi, Juuso Pärssinen and Mikael Pyyhtiä were crucial in the team's 4−3 series victory.

And much like the other quarterfinal series, goaltending was the key. Halonen seemingly struggled, whilst TPS's Andrei Kareev continued his strong season.

» Lähetä palautetta toimitukselle