Today is a special day.
As elven queen Lady Galadriel put it in Peter Jackson’s cinematic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings; “I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.”.
Today is the day when ECL Elite completes its quarterfinal stage and we get down to the final four contenders for the crown of ECL Grand Champion. The teams referred to as “The Big Two” in Part I of our Season Preview, HAVU Gaming and Linköping HC, both swept their quarterfinal series 4-0 against BRAYCE Phantoms and Roots, respectively. With that, last season’s finalists are already back in the semifinals. Now who will join them?
Johan @Rundqviiist Rundqvist (3 W, 85,11 SV%, 1,75 GAA, 0 SO) vs Oskari @sibeelius Grönroos (1 W, 70,37 SV%, 2 GAA, 1 SO)
This series has the makings of an upset as 8th seed Färjestad BK has pushed regular season winners JYP Jyväskyla to the brink of elimination. Up 3-1 in the series, FBK has set themselves up with three separate match points – to borrow a tennis term – and will look to close out the series early tonight against JYP. FBK took a commanding 2-0 series lead on the first game day of the series. JYP came back to win Game 3 but series standout Andreas @affelj96 Ljungberg made sure to bring Game 4 back in FBK’s camp, scoring the deciding 3-2-goal with mere seconds remaining of the third period. JYP has struggled to get their powerful offense going, with left-winger Kristian @kriketski17 Veijola even abandoning his patented Grinder build; the build that saw him lead the regular season in hits, to try his luck as a smaller Sniper. So far, FBK:s defense and goaltender Johan @Rundqviiist Rundqvist has stood tall. Employing a similarly powerful build to kriketski's original, FBK right-winger Sebastian @eBasstian Nagel has made it his personal mission to hit everything and everyone in sight – making it tough for JYP's offensive-minded defenders Aaro @xDoumi Ruuhinen and Ilmari @iilmarii Töyrylä to navigate through the neutral zone. In the end, a lot has come down to affelj in this matchup. From the timely game-deciding goals to the constant threat of him sneaking in behind JYP's defense, the tiny Swedish Sniper has been the biggest thorn in JYP's side through the first four games of the series. Will we see the upset completed tonight? Or will JYP re-discover their offense and find it within themselves to turn the series around?
With the exception of Game 2 where hReds walked all over Unlucky Boys to the tune of a 6-1 win, this series has been a real nail-biter. UB took home Game 1 in overtime, hReds took Game 3 off a beautiful deciding goal with less than a minute remaining from Joakim @Joukki Nyholm and with Game 4, we saw overtime once again. On the powerplay, Julius @Exel56 Rissanen snuck down from his spot as left defender and delivered a crushing slapshot to the top corner off an intelligent feed from right-winger Tim @Timasy Hess, ending hReds hopes to go up 3-1 in the series.
We know the matchup tonight will feature at least two games between these teams. We can’t say for sure if the games will be close or not but based on how the series has gone thus far it’s a pretty safe bet. We might even see three games; wouldn’t that be something? Regardless if there is a Game 7 or not, these teams have given it everything they’ve got and will continue to do so all the way to the end. Today will be a special day. I can smell it in the air. Now let's drop the puck and play some hockey.
Tune in for all the action starting tonight at 20:00 CEST over at www.twitch.tv/nhlgamer, alternatively ISTV, and Ruutu for our Finnish viewers.