Espoo Blues come back from the brink to secure final berth
First Finnish championship medals guaranteed
Espoo Blues made an unlikely but ultimately smooth recovery from being on the ropes and 3-1 down in their best-of-seven semi-final against Helsinki Jokerit, and won the next three games to secure a place in the final of the Finnish ice hockey play-offs, against Kärpät of Oulu.
The seventh game of the series was played in Espoo on Thursday night, and the Blues won 5-3 thanks to a brace of goals apiece from Oskar Osala and Erkki Rajamäki.
It had looked very much as though Jokerit would triumph over the regular season runners-up, as they held a 3-1 advantage going into Monday's game in Espoo.
However, the Espoo team - who have never won any championship hardware - had other ideas, and they brutalised the visitors with a comprehensive 5-1 victory.
This was followed up by a 2-1 overtime win in the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki on Wednesday, leaving all to play for in Espoo on Thursday evening.
And the Espoo squad were clearly up for it, going into a 2-0 lead in the first period and stretching this to 3-0 by midway through the second.
Ville Leino pulled a goal back for the visitors, but a second strike from Osala put Espoo three goals to the good as the third period opened.
A few Espoo hearts went into mouths as Jokerit clawed their way back to 4-3, but Erkki Rajamäki's second goal on 51:30 put the game beyond reach and allowed an enthusiastic crowd of 6,000 to roar their approval at the very first medals won by Espoo Blues.
What colour these will be - gold or silver - will depend on how well the team can recover from their exertions by the time they travel to Oulu to face reigning champions Kärpät for the first time on Saturday.
Kärpät had a considerably easier passage into the final, dismissing Tappara from Tampere in four straight matches, but history has shown that a long lay-off before a series of matches is not always the best preparation.
Jokerit will play Tappara for the bronze medals on Saturday. The one-off, winner-takes-all match will be played in Helsinki.
As for the two finalists, they will duke it out over a maximum of seven games, and the holders of the Canada Trophy for 2008 will be known by April 15th at the latest.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Kärpät make final of hockey play-offs; Jokerit need one more win to join them (31.3.2008)
SM-Liiga, the Finnish Ice Hockey Premier League (Wikipedia)
Espoo Blues briefly in English