The composition of Tre Kronor at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver showed that there is a changing of the guard taking place in Swedish hockey. The "Golden Generation" of players born from 1970 to 1975 has largely been supplanted by younger talent. Likewise, one need only look at the Swedish playoffs to see there are fresh faces emerging in Elitserien.
One key piece of evidence: As the Swedish championship playoff semifinals get set to begin on April 1, the leading postseason goal scorer is a player named Forsberg. But it's not that Forsberg.
Peter Forsberg's Modo Hockey club missed the playoffs despite being stacked with former NHL talent in the second half of the season. Instead, it's the unrelated Johan Forsberg, a right winger for surprising Skellefteå AIK, who is making noise.
In the quarterfinals, Forsberg tallied 6 goals and added an assist as SAIK knocked off Färjestads BK (the defending champion and the most accomplished club in Elitserien over the last decade) in seven games. Only Linköpings HC defenseman Magnus Johansson, an Olympian, scored as many goals during the first playoff round. LHC's Tony Mårtensson leads the overall scoring race with 6 assists and 9 points.
It is somewhat uncharacteristic of the 24-year-old Forsberg to score goals in bunches the way he did in the quarterfinals. A native of Piteå, the same small northern city that produced NHL standouts Lars Lindgren, Mikael Renberg, Tomas Holmstrom and Mattias Ohlund, Forsberg is better known as a hard-working, two-way player than as a prolific scorer.
During the Elitserien regular season, he scored 9 goals and 26 points to go along with an impressive plus-14 rating at even strength while averaging 13 minutes of ice time per game. Last season, the right-handed shooting winger scored a career-high 16 goals in 43 games at the Allsvenskan (top minor league) level for Björklöven.
In the hard-fought, first-round series against Färjestad, SAIK won the opener on the road, 3-2, but lost Game 2 in overtime, 3-2, at Skellefteå Kraft Arena. Returning to Karlstad for the third game, SAIK lost a potential heartbreaker, 5-4, in double overtime. Game 4 also required overtime, as the home SAIK club came back from a 1-goal deficit in the third period and finally prevailed in the extra period, 3-2.
The fifth game (also played in Skellefteå) saw veteran goaltender Andreas Hadelöv shut out FBK, 2-0. In Game 6, Färjestad nipped SAIK, 2-1, preventing the visiting club from closing out the series in Karlstad and forcing a seventh and deciding game in Skellefteå.
Finally, in the decisive game played Tuesday, SAIK's Yared Hagos got the crowd rocking early with a short-handed goal just three minutes into the game. The 1-0 lead held until the 14:03 mark of the second period, when FBK's Dragan Umicevik tied the game on the power play. In the third period, SAIK's Fredrik Warg scored the biggest goal in recent team history, tallying on the power play to forge a 2-1 lead at the 8:51 mark. In the waning minutes of regulation, SAIK fans sat nervously through a penalty kill and four-on-four play. With 1:49 remaining in the game, FBK pulled goaltender Robin Rahm for an extra attacker. But Hadelöv (22 saves) and SAIK held the fort to close out the victory and win the series.
Things won't get any easier for Skellefteå in the semifinals. They will be a decided underdog when they face off against HV 71 Jönköping. The first-place finisher during the regular season, a playoff finalist last year and the champions in 2007-08, HV 71 has been a powerhouse in recent years. In the quarterfinals, HV 71 needed just five games to dispatch eighth-seeded Timrå IK. The Jönköping club was the highest-scoring team in the league during the regular season. The other semifinal series will see second-seeded Djurgårdens IF play third-ranked Linköping.
Regardless of what happens in the semis, it has already been a fine season for SAIK. The club gained a home-ice spot in the first round and emerged victorious against the defending champions while archrival Luleå HF could only sit at home at watch after fading down the stretch and missing the playoffs. For SAIK, it doesn't get much better than that, except, of course, if they can pull off the upset of the year and find their way into the finals.