With just four teams left in the Champions Hockey League, the semi-final stage got underway last night as Frolunda Gothenburg look destined for a finals appearance for a second year in a row as they got off to a great start against HC Davos.
Gothenburg flew down to Davos and the beautiful Vaillant Arena where the SHL side put in a dominant performance, leaving Davos a mountain to climb going into the second leg of the semi-finals next weekend.
It wasn’t long before Gothenburg were celebrating their first goal of the night, some pretty passing in the offensive zone set up Spencer Abbott to beat Davos goalie Leonardo Genoni on the powerplay to go up 1 – 0. Gothenburg only managed the one goal in the opening period and Arrtturi Lehkonen’s strike in the second was the only one of that period, but with time winding down in the second period Davos thought they’d pulled one back but Lars Johansson pulled off a tremendous glove save, going from post to post, stretching out the arm and snatching the puck out of the air which was just one of his 20 saves on the night on route to a shutout.
Up by 2, Gothenburg wasted no time at all in pushing forward, just 43 seconds into the final period Ryan Lasch gave Frolunda a 3 – 0 lead, Davos couldn’t get out of their own zone as Lasch forced a turnover, his attempt to pass in front was deflected into the Davos net for the score. Frolunda weren’t done there, after a highlight reel save in the second period at one end of the rink, the Swedish side were putting up a highlight reel goal, Jacob Larsson sped into the offensive zone, round the defenseman before a few quick dekes in-front led him to roof a backhander past Genoni for a 4 – 0 Frolunda lead.
Before time was out, Frolunda added their fifth and final goal of the game, an offensive faceoff win set up Larsson to blast a slapshot through a screen from the point to give Frolunda their 5 – 0 victory over HC Davos.
Frolunda look to be comfortably in the drivers seat going into the next leg where Davos will have a mountain to climb as they travel to Sweden.
The second of the two semi-finals was an all Finnish affair as Lukko Rauma played host to Karpat Oulu in a much closer contest that see’s the two sides separated by one goal at the end of the first leg. Lukko got the home fans into it midway through the opening frame, Toni Koivisto was unchallenged in front of net and finished off a nice pass from Janne Lahti to give the home side a 1 – 0 lead. Just over a minute later Lukko lit the lamp again, this time Jesse Virtanen caused a turnover in his own zone before speeding up the ice, beating Karpat goalie Sami Aittokallio with a wicked wrist shot to give the home side a 2 – 0 advantage.
Karpat would respond before the period was out, with a man advantage Lasse Kukkonen fired a slap shot from the left wing, going over the shoulder of Ryan Zapolski to pull one back for the visitors. A goalless second period went by, with some great saves from both goaltenders but mainly Sami Aittokallio who was the busier of the two netminders but was able to blank Lukko for the rest of the game, setting up a stunning comeback from Karpat Oulu.
Early in the third period, Juho Keranen tied the game at two each with a breakaway goal from a beautiful feed from Markus Nutivaara for his second assist of the night. With less than 10 minutes to play, the vistors quietened the home crowd after a shot from the point took a deflection in front from c, with Sebastian Aho picked up an assist after returning from the World Juniors with Finland as a gold medalist, which helped give Karpat Oulu a 3 – 2 come from behind victory and the lead going into the second leg.
With Frolunda looking on course to reach the final for a second year in a row, it’s much closer coming out of Finland with both Lukko Rauma and Karpat Oulu still very much in contention to make their way to the final which will be played on the 9th of February.