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Eye on Europe: Always a winner

Dominik Hasek's Pardubice team won the Czech League title in a sweep this season. (OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

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Dominik Hasek's Pardubice team won the Czech League title in a sweep this season. (OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Dominik Hasek has had a nice spring. First, he recently turned 45, and on Thursday his Pardubice team won the Czech Republic championship in a sweep over Vitkovice. Pardubice lost only one game in the post-season; its first match and then bagged 12 straight wins.

Hasek posted impressive numbers, too. His save percentage in the 13 games was .937 and he was the only goalie to have a goals-against average below 2.00. He posted three shutouts and conceded an average of 1.68 goals en route to the championship.

He will not play in the World Championship in Germany in May, though. Coach Vladimir Ruzicka has named Florida Panther Tomas Vokoun as the Czech starting goaltender.

NO REGULAR SEASON
When the Finnish SM-liiga was established prior to the 1975-76 season, the 10 teams played against each other four times and then the four top-seeded teams went into playoffs that consisted of best-of-three series. In the 35 years of the league’s existence, even with 10 out of 14 teams currently having a shot at it, only four times has the final been played without the regular season winner or the runner-up: 1988, 2003, 2006 and 2010.

The lowest-seeded team to win the title was Tampere Tappara in 2003 after it finished fifth in the regular season.

Both JYP and KalPa, the two top teams in the regular season this year, were part of the semifinal, but were sent packing by Turku’s TPS (6) and Hameenlinna’s HPK (5). HPK, coincidentally, won the 2006 championship after it finished third in the regular season and beat fifth-seeded Pori Assat in the final.

TPS, the alma mater of the Koivu and Kiprusoff brothers – Miikka Kiprusoff is one of the major shareholders in the club – has been in financial turmoil for most of the decade and has seen its attendance dive hand-in-hand with the team’s performance in the league. Since 2004, when the team lost the SM-liiga final under coach Jukka Koivu, TPS didn’t get past the wildcard playoff round, until last year, when the squad pushed JYP to six games.

The upward trend started last season with the hiring of coach Kai Suikkanen. Dead last in the standings at that point, the team finished 10th, then beat IFK Helsinki in two straight games to make it to the real playoffs. Last season’s quarterfinal games averaged more than 10,000 spectators; the regular season attendance was a little more than 5,000.

Should TPS win the Finnish title, it would become the lowest-seeded team to go all the way. It’s close, as TPS beat HPK in the first game on Thursday, 4-2.

SUDDEN LIFE
It’s not how you win the game; it’s how many you win. In Sweden, HV71, playing in its third final in a row, has found a way to win. So far, the team has played 15 post-season games, gone to OT eight times and lost just one: Game 4 of the final series against Stockholm’s Djurgarden.

All in all, there have been a lot of sudden deaths in the Swedish playoffs. Of the 37 games played so far – with at least one game to go – 16 have been undecided after 60 minutes. Of the 16 overtimes, only one went into double overtime.

HV71 has a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series and a chance to bring home Le Mat Trophy on Saturday.

YOUTH MOVEMENT
With veteran NHLers Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Jere Lehtinen and Olli Jokinen bowing out of the national team, Team Finland coach Jukka Jalonen might turn to some young talent at the World Championship.

Both Mikael Granlund – who on Friday had a goal and four points when Finland beat Russia in the bronze medal game at the World Under-18 Championship – and defenseman Sami Vatanen are rumored to be close to making the team that plays in Sweden during next weekend’s final exhibition tournament before the worlds.

One veteran is returning, as Sami Kapanen – who would have most likely played in the Olympics had he not been injured – accepted an invitation to the World Championship training camp.

RIPPLE EFFECT
With Dynamo Moscow merging with MVD, a crop of good hockey players found themselves in limbo. Sweden’s Linkopings HC signed Mattias Weinhandl and Tony Martensson in 2008, then loaned them to Russia. Martensson returned to Linkoping after one year, while Weinhandl played with Dynamo for two seasons.

Martensson was supposed to join him there, but Dynamo chairman Mikhail Golovkov’s resignation makes matters more complicated.

“Their contracts aren’t valid anymore,” Golovkov told Sovjetski Sport. “They were based solely on my personal agreement and won’t be binding anymore.”

Both players are now rumored to be signing with SKA St. Petersburg, while another Dynamo player, Jiri Hudler, is said to be on his way back to the NHL.

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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