The battle for the eight spots in the Red Bull Salute is getting more and more intense. On Saturday the chasing clossed the gap at the top in two of the divisions, and in the two other divisions, the chase is on.
Slovan Bratislava picked up a vital bonuspoint after winning a penalty shootout away to HC Plzen 1929 to stay top of the East Division. Still it will be tough for the Slovaks to advance to the Red Bull Salute. They are top the division with 13 points in seven games.
But Saturdays opponents, HC Plzen 1929, and the second Czech team of the division, HC Mountfield, are close behind with games in hand.
Slovan went 2–0 up in the first period, goals by Miroslav Preisinger and Libor Hudacek, and when they went 4–1 up midway through the second, it looked as if they would be able to secure their first – and really vital – win on awayice. But when man of the match Radek Duda scored his second of the game – his fourth in the five games Plzen have played so far – Plzen saved a draw. ”Probably a fair result after 60 minutes” said Plzen assistant coach Milan Razym. ”When it comes to penaltyshots it’s a gamble, but I guess the miss we made during the game gave a hint of the outcome.”
Plzen missed a penalty early in the first half and Slovan eventually won on penalties, the gamewinning goal scored by Miroslav Preisinger. ”We didn’t have the right luck today” concluded Slovan assistant coach Miro Mosner.
The point that Plzen picked up though, make them one of the favourites to qualify for the Red Bull Salute. They are now only two points behind Slovan Bratislava with two games in hand and are still undefeated after 60 minutes of play.
HC Mountfield are also undefeated after 60 minutes this far and only one point behind SLovan Bratislava at the top of the division with two games in hand after defeating Vienna Capitals 4–0 at home. Mountfield impressed and played a solid game, winning the shots on goal 38–18, goals scored by Pavel Kasparik, Jan Novak, David Kuchejda and Frantisek Ptacek.
In the North division, the Finnish teams recorded two wins in Prague in effect putting bort Sparta and Slavia out of the playoffs. Jokerit won 4–2 against Sparta, scoring a four unanswered goal in the second period. Janne lahti opened the scoring on a box-play (!) and Teemu Pulkkinen, Ben Eaves and Petr Kalus put the game out of reach for Sparta. The hometeam got two goals back, but not until the final 1:03 of the game. ”All in all, a solid performance on our part” said Jokeritcoach Erkka Westerlund.
His colleague in the HIFK-camp, Petri Matikainen, was also pleased with his teams performance as HIFK defeated Slavia Prague on penalties, to pick their first win from the trip to the Czech Republic. ”It was a physically very tough game and we had to dig deep to win it, but I am very satisfied with they way out team handled it” Matikainen said.
HIFK were in the lead twice during regulation time – goals from Eero Somervuori and Micke Åsten – but Slavia came through Petr Kadlec and Tomas Svoboda to earn a draw. The win went to HIFK though, when junior Mikael Granlund (right) went first in the penalty shootout, and was the only player to convert his penalty into a goal. That gave HIFK the win and made Granlund go to of the junior scoring leaders-table.
Those wins mean that Jokerit and HIFK have closed the gap that Djurgården had opened up at the top of the North division to make it an open affair again.
Luleå also wants to get involved in the race for a place in the Red Bull Salute after defeating fellow Swedes Färjestad, 5–2. Luleå turned the game around in the second period after Anders Bastiansen had given the guests the lead – on a box-play – after the first third of the game. But in the second, Joonas Vihko and Jonas Berglund turned the cards within one minute and one second midway through the period. And when Johan Harju made it 3–1 a minute from the interval, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the reigning Swedish champions. Harju scorded a second to make the score early in the final period and after that there was no way back for Färjestad.
Färjestad also have an uphill battle if they are to qualify for the Red Bull Salute. The defeat puts them in a difficult position with only two games remaining as both Red Bull Salzburg and Eisbären Berlin won their respective games on Saturday, both against teams from their own division.
Red Bull Salzburg defeated TPS, 4–2, in a game where the line with Robert Earl (one goal and one assist), Ramzi Abid (one goal) and Danny Bois (three assists) were involved in all four goals, even though two of them were scored by Thomas Raffl who also got an assist on the 4–2-goal, scored in an open net. The win took Red Bull Salzburg top of the division.
On a brighter note for TPS, Tomas Pilhal (right) went top of the scoring-table as he scored his sixth goals in the five games TPS have played in the European Trophy so far.
In Crimmitschau, the crowd was only treated to one goal as last years champions Eisbären Berlin went into second place in the West division. Richie Regehr hit the net from the blueline, scoring the winner against Finnish side Tappara on a power-play, 2:36 into the second period.
But the fight for a place in the play-off is intense and both Frölunda and TPS can go above Eisbären, if they win their respective games on Sunday.
Frölunda face Adler Mannheim, who after three straight wins in the first three games of this years European Trophy now have two straight defeats. On Saturday they lost 4–3 to HV71 who with that win passed the Germans in the South division. A goalless first period was followed by a second where the hometeam lost a two-goal lead and the teams went into the dressingrooms locked at 2–2 after a Mannheim-equalizer from Steve Wagner on a powerplay just four seconds from the end.
HV once again took a two-goal lead in the final period – goals by Jesse Joensuu and Per Ledin – and Mannheim came back once again. This time they only managed one goal though and HV held on to go second behind Czech team HC CSOB Pojistovna Pardubice who also picked up three points on Saturday night when they at home defeated fellow Czechs Kometa Brno 5–4 in a real battle.
The hometeam went 1–0 up, Brno turned it around and held a 2–1-lead after the first period. HC CSOB Pojistovna Pardubice scored three goals in the second to make it 4–2, Brno came back in the third and made it a 4–4-game before Martin Bartek found a winner for the hometime with just a little over two minutes to go. ”We are very happy for the points, but we are not pleased with the way we played. We got these three points thansk to the way we played in the second period. To be honest, we were almost useless in the first and last” said homecoach Ladislav Lubina.
HC CSOB Pojistovna Pardubice are still top of the division though, but it will be a tough battle all they way in the South as well with HV71, Adler Mannheim and Bili Tygri Liberec all looking for a place in the Red Bull Salute as well. Liberec defeated Linköping on penalties, Saturday night, the gamewinning penalty scored by NHL-veteran Petr Nedved (right). But Liberec almost closed the gap to the teams at the top even more. The Linköping-equalizer came on a power-play with just a little over four minutes left in the third period.Per Csongrádi