Giant-killing Espoo Blues royally repay new owners' faith
SM-Liiga playoffs semi-final pairings atre Blues vs. Pelicans, Jokerit vs. JYP
Double-Plus, hat-eating WOW!
Espoo Blues continued their quite extraordinary turnaround in the SM-Liiga playoffs quarter-finals, travelling to Kuopio on Monday to record a 4-1 victory over regular-season winners KalPa to consign them to their summer holidays and book themselves a highly unlikely place in the semi-finals.
Never before in Finnish ice hockey has a team come back from 0-3 down in a best-of-seven series to progress in this fashion.
Espoo Blues, who recently underwent a change of ownership, will now play regular-season runners-up Lahti Pelicans, who also took the long route to overcome Oulu Kärpät.
The other semi-final pairing will feature Helsinki Jokerit and JYP of Jyväskylä.
Espoo Blues finished 8th in the regular season, some 33 points adrift of winners KalPa.
For the first three of their seven matches, this was quite apparent, as KalPa looked to be marching into the last four with imperious ease.
However, the Espoo side developed a remarkable head of steam, and by the time the puck dropped on Monday night, few would have bet against them delivering the ultimate upset.
Inside the first period, three Espoo goals without reply effectively killed off the game and any chances KalPa might have had to recover their composure, and even when the Kuopio team did get on the board late in the third period, it took only 90 seconds before Espoo scored a fourth into an empty net to rub in their superiority.
By the end, the proud regular-season winners were like punch-drunk boxers, barely aware of where they were.
In a sense, they ought to have known what was in prospect, even though it came as a complete shock to all, since last season Espoo Blues progressed all the way to the finals of the Finnish Championships by the same long route of the preliminary "charity round", and knocked out both the regular-season winners (JYP) and runners-up (Ässät of Pori) along the way, before going down to Helsinki IFK.
This will probably not be lost on their next opponents, runners-up Lahti Pelicans, who also overcame a big deficit (1-3 in games) to win out over Oulu Kärpät.
Their 3-2 victory in the seventh and final match means they will meet the Espoo side in Lahti on Wednesday.
Lahti have home advantage in the seven-match series, owing to their higher league position.
Espoo play their first home semi-final on Thursday, and if the often under-populated Barona Arena is not bursting at the seams, then there really is no justice in the world.
The other semi-final pairing of Helsinki Jokerit (6th in the table) and JYP of Jyväskylä (4th) also starts in Jyväskylä tomorrow.
Both these teams had a much easier passage to the last four, winning their quarter-finals emphatically 4-0.
Previously in HS International Edition:
SM-Liiga Playoffs (in Finnish)
Espoo underdogs bite back and create a little ice hockey history (2.4.2012)
Salonoja withdraws from ownership of Espoo Blues ice hockey team (30.3.2012)