Espoo Blues keep championship hopes alive with overtime victory in Oulu
After losing the first two matches, the third game in the best-of-seven ice hockey Finnish Championship finals was always going to be crucial for Espoo Blues.
A third defeat would have seen them staring at the abyss and a possible 4-0 whitewash at the hands of reigning champions Oulu Kärpät, but victory could right the ship and turn the final into a real competition.
As it happened, the hunger of the Espoo players was enough to see them through after 16:07 of the first period of overtime. Ismo Kuoppala's goal made it 3-2 to Espoo and 2-1 to Kärpät after three matches.
The goal when it came was a reward for some determined attacking in the overtime period, as the hosts Kärpät sat back and soaked up punishment as best they could, showing surprisingly little stomach for the fight.
The Espoo goaltender Berndt Brückler was barely troubled in that last sixteen minutes, while his opposite number Tuomas Tarkki was constantly in action, pulling off big saves to rescue the home side.
Whether Espoo Blues can now build on the momentum of this initial victory of the four they need remains to be seen: the first evidence will come today when the teams go at it in Espoo for Round 4.
Espoo Blues have never before won a Finnish Championship medal of any colour, but at least on Wednesday night it looked as if they were not content with silver and second-best.
The first game in the series, played in Oulu, ended in a fairly comfortable 3-1 win for Kärpät, but the second match was a massive affair, running to more than 90 minutes before Kärpät broke the deadlock to win 2-1 in the second period of sudden-death overtime.
It was the second-longest match ever played at the final stage, falling 13 minutes short of the titanic struggle between Tappara of Tampere and Kärpät in the 2002-2003 season.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Espoo Blues come back from the brink to secure final berth (4.4.2008)
Espoo Blues briefly in English
SM-Liiga, the Finnish Ice Hockey Premier League (Wikipedia)