Round of 16: Linkoping HC vs IFK Helsinki
Read below for information on the Round of 16 series between Linkoping HC and IFK Helsinki. Linkoping won on aggregate 2-1 to advance to the Quarter-Finals.
Linkoping HC and IFK Helsinki renew the always intense Swedish-Finnish rivalry. Head-to-head, they met each other in last year's CHL group stage, with Linkoping taking all 6 points. Both teams went out in the Round of 32 though, so they've both already eclipsed last season. Two years ago, both went as far as the Quarter-Finals, but only one will this year. In the CHL so far this season, Linkoping have been nearly unstoppable, including a pair of wins against JYP Jyvaskyla from Finland. IFK Helsinki barely survived a group with opponents that were not supposed to cause any trouble for them, then ground out a tough two games against TPS Turku to get here. Neither team has set the world on fire domestically this season – IFK Helsinki in the middle of the Liiga pack and Linkoping languishing 11th in the SHL – but it's still early.
Closer look: Linkoping HC
(5-0-0-1, 13 points, 25:12)
Linkoping HC and JYP Jyvaskyla were expected to emerge from Group K, and that's exactly what happened. While the Gap Rapaces put up good fights, they were unable to take any points from the Nordic giants. In their first CHL game of the season, Linkoping won a 2-0 war of attrition in Gap. They then took a big step towards winning the group with a 4-1 win in Jyvaskyla. They then did it on home ice as well, beating the same two teams in reverse order 4-3 and 6-1 to take the maximum 12 points. They started the Round of 32 with a big 7-4 win in Davos, only to see their lead evaporate at home – Davos scored three straight goals, but Linkoping added a late pair to prevail on aggregate. With 25 goals on 225 shots in six games, they lead the CHL in both offensive categories. They are especially dangerous on the power play, which is firing at 36% – 2nd-best.
Top Forward & CRAMO Top Scorer: Broc Little scored a CHL-best 5 goals in the group stage, and turned into more of a set-up man in the Round of 32 with 3 assists. With 9 points, the 28-year-old American left-winger, who is now entering his third season in Linkoping, is tied for the CHL scoring lead. Linkoping have two lines of dangerous forwards, which include the likes of Niclas Bergfors, Henrik Tornqvist, Niklas Persson and former CHL MVP Mathis Olimb, so there's no easy solution to shutting down this offence.
Top Defenceman: It's not only Linkoping's forwards that are dangerous - they get plenty of production from the back end as well. Kristian Nakyva has 7 points, which leads all CHL defencemen and is third-best overall. Two seasons ago, Nakyva was brilliant on defence for Lulea Hockey, scoring 12 points in 13 games en route to the CHL title. Last year, the Finnish D-man played in the AHL, but now he's back in Sweden. He makes up for the loss of Gustav Forsling, who is now playing for the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks after helping Linkoping in this year's CHL group stage.
Top Goaltender: With Linkoping HC’s great start in the CHL, neither Jacob Johansson nor Marcus Hogberg have had to be excellent in goal. They haven't been bad, though, allowing 12 goals in six games. The job will probably get tougher for the two youngsters now, though. While Johansson's CHL statistics were better in the two group-stage games he played, 21-year-old Hogberg got the nod in both games vs Davos. After splitting the goaltending duties in Linkoping with David Rautio the last two years, Hogberg is now the team's starting goalie ahead of Johansson, who spent the last two seasons in the Allsvenskan.
Closer look: IFK Helsinki
(1-0-3-2, 6 points, 19:16)
IFK Helsinki were expected to be the top team in Group G, but instead they struggled mightily against EV Zug and, even more surprisingly, Esbjerg Energy. It was the Swiss club that beat them in their first two games – 2-1 in Zug and 4-1 in Helsinki. Still, few panicked, as the thought of not picking up the necessary points to advance against Esbjerg seemed unthinkable. However, Esbjerg came up with one of the more surprising performances of the group stage, getting a tying goal in the last minute and then winning in overtime, 5-4. HIFK now needed a regulation win to advance, but got things together and won 7-0. After two tight games against fellow Liiga club TPS Turku, which was settled in a penalty shootout after two draws, their task now gets much more difficult if they want to advance past the Round of 16.
Top Forward & CRAMO Top Scorer: After picking up 3 points in the Round of 32 vs TPS, Micke Asten is now the team's top scorer with 6 points. That's somewhat surprising, as he has 1 point in 11 Liiga games and had a career-high 9 points last year, so we'll see if he can keep up that pace. Although the team has not really exploded on offence in the CHL yet this season, they do have some weapons up front to watch for, such as Lennart Petrell, Corey Elkins, Robert Leino, and Liiga top scorer Juhamatti Aaltonen.
Top Defenceman: 34-year-old Daniel Grillfors might not be the most sparkling player on the rink, but his overall game is admirable. This well-rounded d-man is one of HIFK's key players and gets a lot of ice time on special teams. He's a great role-model for the younger players and Grillfors makes his teammates look better when he's on the ice with them. His +4 rating is tied for the team's best in the CHL so far. Offensively, Teemu Eronen has 7 points in nine CHL and Liiga games combined, but has been out of the lineup injured for some time.
Top Goaltender: HIFK-homegrown goaltender Niklas Backstrom has returned to the club after 16 years, mostly spent with the Minnesota Wild. After couple rough years in the NHL, nobody really knew what to expect from this 38-year-old, but Backstrom has already shown that he is on a good shape and ready to get back on the stage where he once was. His statistics in both the CHL and Liiga have been very good, while splitting the playing time with Kevin Lankinen almost right down the middle.