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Eye On Europe: Gustavsson defines domination

Henrik Lundqvist, shown here representing Team Sweden at the 2008 world championships, will have his Swedish Elitserien single-season playoff shutouts record tied by Jonas Gustavsson if he picks up one more. (DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images)

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Henrik Lundqvist, shown here representing Team Sweden at the 2008 world championships, will have his Swedish Elitserien single-season playoff shutouts record tied by Jonas Gustavsson if he picks up one more. (DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images)

MONSTER’S BALL
These days, if you reach for your Swedish-English dictionary and look up “domination,” you’ll see a photo of Färjestad’s goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.

Not only has Färjestad swept its two series en route to the Swedish Elitserien final for the seventh time in the past 10 years, it’s also cruised there quite comfortably. In the quarterfinal, Farjestad swept Brynas 4-0 with a 10-2 goal difference, including two shutouts.

In the semifinal it gave Skelleftea AIK a lesson in playoff hockey, shutting them out three times and outscoring them 17-2 in four games; and that includes a 3-2 victory in the second overtime of Game 4 for Farjestad.

In other words, Farjestad has a 27-4 goal differential in the post-season – four goals-against in eight games.

A big reason – quite literally – for the lopsided nature of the games is the 6-foot-4 Gustavsson, who took his excellent regular season stats and improved on them in the post-season. The Stockholm native topped the goaltending statistics with his .931 save percentage in 42 games. He was also the only goalie in the league to keep his GAA under 2.00, posting a 1.96. 

In the playoffs, Gustavsson – nicknamed “The Monster” by coach Per-Erik Johnsson – has stopped 194 of 198 shots, giving him a save percentage of .979. On top of that, Gustavsson has extended the league’s consecutive shutout record to 240 minutes and 25 seconds. Djurgarden’s Thomas Ostlund previously held the record with 201 minutes and 18 seconds during the regular season.

“I actually wasn’t aware of the record until somebody asked me for an interview after the period,” Gustavsson said with a straight face.

The longest shutout streak during the Elitserien playoffs was by Henrik Lundqvist, with 175 minutes and 20 seconds in 2005 when Frölunda won the Swedish championship. The three-time Vezina candidate still holds the record for most shutouts in a post-season with six.

Well, at least for another game.

Gustavsson started last season backing up Christopher Heino-Lindberg, playing just 20 games in the Elitserien and six games with Färjestad’s farm team Skare in Division I. During the playoffs, he tended the net for Farjestad in 10 games and posted a 3.60 GAA as the team bowed out in the semifinals.

Another weapon Farjestad has is their home ice. Farjestad hasn’t lost at their Lofbergs Lila Arena since falling to HV71 – who leads their semifinal series against Frolunda Indians 3-2 – almost four months ago.

FOR THE RECORD
Last season, Ben Eaves was Espoo Blues’ best player in the post-season, scoring seven goals and 12 points in 13 games, before losing the best-of-seven final against Kärpät 4-1.

Since signing with Blues in November 2007, Eaves has sustained several injuries during his time in Finland. Last season he only played 10 games in the regular season and was limited to 22 this season. In December he returned to the United States and his career was expected to be over.

Not.

In the last 10 regular season games after his surprise comeback in February, Eaves collected only four assists and even left the first quarterfinal game against Pelicans pointless. But two weeks ago, in the second game of the playoffs, he scored his first goal since Oct. 4 and hasn’t looked back.

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Eaves finished the series with 14 points in seven games, a new SM-liiga record for points in a series. The old record was set last season when Ville Leino scored four goals and 12 points in six games.

Eaves’ 12 assists also became a new league record in a playoff series. The Minnesota native leads the league in post-season scoring with 15 points in eight games.

Should Blues play two more seven-game series this spring, Eaves will have played more games in the post-season than the 32 games he’s played in the regular season. He now sits with 27 points in 21 career playoff games in the SM-liiga.

LE TRIPLE?
French regular season runner-up, the Brûleurs de loups of Grenoble – or the Wolf Burners – is going after a triple in French hockey, having already won the French Cup and the League Cup earlier this season. In the French Cup, Grenoble mustered all their courage and skated over Dijon 6-1 and in the League Cup final downed Briançon Alpes Provence Hockey Club 4-3.

In a rematch of the League Cup final, the Wolf Burners take on regular season winners Briançon in a best-of-five final series of the Ligue Magnus. The series is tied 1-1 after two games in Briançon and will now go to Grenoble for the next two games, with a possible Game 5 back at Briançon.

Both teams have heavily non-French rosters. The Wolf Burners – named after a 17th century legend of priests chasing wolves that had harassed their parish and burning them – have 11 imports from Sweden, Slovenia, Canada and the Czech Republic and also have a Swedish coach, Mats Lusth.

Lead by Italian-Canadian coach Luciano Basile, Briançon has 13 imports from Canada, Finland, Hungary, Slovenia, Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom.

No team has ever won all three titles in the same season. Grenoble won the French championship in 2007.

I WANT MY NHL
Back in February, about 20,000 tickets to the two Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues 2009-10 NHL regular season opener games in Stockholm, Sweden, were sold out in a day, with the best seats changing hands in just about a hour.

For NHL fans in Helsinki, Finland, Christmas Eve came early when the tickets to the Florida Panthers-Chicago Blackhawks games were released to the public this week. The website crashed under the demand and by the end of the day, only a couple of hundred tickets were still available ($166 to $415 Cdn.).

Eye on Europe will be featured on THN.com every Friday throughout the season. Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden who also writes for NHL.com and IIHF.com. When not writing about European hockey on THN, he's probably writing about hockey at ristopakarinen.com/hockey as Puckarinen. 

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