You may remember us mentioning Islanders goaltending property Mikko Koskinen getting run, then fighting his aggressor, as his KalPa squad had his former club Espoo on the ropes in this spring's Finnish SM-Liiga playoffs. Koskinen received a one-game suspension for the altercation and missed Game 4.
That wasn't the half of it.
That moment, and Koskinen's resulting absence in Game 4, may have been the turning point in what became SM-Liiga history: Espoo Blues won the next four games, becoming the first team to advance after trailing in a best-of-seven series 3-0.
Koskinen and his team had dominated Espoo in the first three games, outscoring them 9-1 with Koskinen collecting two shutouts (one requiring only 13 saves) with a .982 save percentage. By the end of the nightmarish collapse, however, his series save percentage (six games) had dropped to below .900 and he was pulled from Game 7 in the first intermission after giving up two goals on the first six shots.
Espoo only made it to face the top-seeded KalPa by way of the "pity playoffs," a play-in round that pits 8 vs. 9. As LHH reader Juho tells us (who regaled us with tales throughout the series), Espoo has advanced from that pity position before:
One in the States may not realise how big of an upset this series was for the whole country. I simply have to share this story of Blues’ Cinderella runs which now seem mandatory. Oh yeah, this has happened before. Because last spring Blues (ninth seed) first beat Kärpät (eight seed) in the wild card series two games to one and advanced to the quarter finals. Then it pulled an upset against Ässät (second seed) by beating it four games to two. After that Blues wasn’t nearly done as it flew past JYP (first seed) in the semis four games to one. In the finals Blues was already out of fuel and lost the championship series against HIFK (third seed) four games to none.
And counting from this March Blues is doing it again.
It started this year’s run yet again from the wild card series (as the eighth seed) by beating Lukko two games to one. And then it was KalPa (the first seed) and Koskinen’s turn for their great collapse. It is simply remarkable how this series swinged from KalPa-dominance to completely opposite direction.
I think the moment KalPa began its freefall was after that fight and suspension of Koskinen. After sitting the fourth game he wasn’t the same brick wall but more of a leaf in the wind (as we Finns use to say). It’s now pointless and just a bunch of big ifs but if Koskinen hadn’t been suspended for his rumble with Huhtala, KalPa would’ve sealed the series in game four.
(The links within that text go to Juho's previous descriptions of the series, back in happier times for Koskinen.)
Another account, from Helsingin Sanomat:
By the end, the proud regular-season winners were like punch-drunk boxers, barely aware of where they were.
From the sounds of it, Game 7 unfolded just like those rare instances when an NHL team has blown a 3-0 lead: With nervousness and the once-leading team playing with a fragile psyche, while the comeback team plays loose as it enjoys playing with house money.
It's an absolutely tragic result for KalPa, Sami Kapanen's team, which had resurrected itself and taken the regular season title after years of futility that even saw relegation in the late '90s.
With three goalies in the crease at AHL Bridgeport, the Islanders had loaned Koskinen to KalPa at mid-season, and he was in fine form. Now this puts a completely different, sour cap on his and KalPa's season.
The Run and Fight
Here's the moment where Tommi Huhtala, like some Finnish Matt Cooke, changed the trajectory of the series:
Remember kids, violence doesn't pay. Except sometimes. (Especially when you're desperate. Particularly in hockey.)