It's often said in hockey that goaltenders blossom later than forwards or defensemen. That can be especially true for bigger goalies.
Take 24-year-old Jonas Gustavsson
of Färjestads BK Karlstad as a prime example of that phenomenon.
Gustavsson, almost 6-foot-4, did not reach the Elitserien (Swedish Elite League) level until last season and did not truly emerge as an impact player until this year. Now he's the talk of Swedish hockey and has NHL scouts taking notice.
Gustavsson recently set a Swedish record by going three-plus games without allowing a goal -- a whopping 238 minutes and 20 seconds -- and led Färjestad back into the playoff finals for the seventh time in the past nine years. In doing so, Gustavsson shattered both the overall shutout streak record of 201:18 set by Thomas Östlund and the former playoff record of 175:20 established by Henrik Lundqvist
, now with the New York Rangers
, in 2004-05.
Nicknamed "The Monster," Gustavsson to date has had one of the most dominant playoff goaltending runs seen in any league. In eight games, he has posted five shutouts, allowing just four goals on 198 shots for a .978 save percentage and a 0.48 goals-against average.
Even when he proved semi-mortal, allowing two goals in the deciding semifinal game against Skellefteå AIK, Gustavsson came away the hero. FBK prevailed in double overtime, 3-2, and Gustavsson slammed the door after the second period. In the first three games, Färjestad prevailed by scores of 2-0, 6-0 and 6-0.
"When a goalie plays the way he has, it gives everyone a lot of confidence," FBK veteran Peter Nordström told the Swedish press. "He's played that way all season."
For his part, Gustavsson downplayed the personal significance of the new shutout mark. He even claimed he was unaware of the record until it was pointed out to him.
"To do something like that, you need the guys in front of you to play well." Gustavsson said. "I've had some luck, too. The biggest thing is to win, and we need four more wins."
FBK is undefeated heading into the finals against defending champion HV 71 Jönköping. FBK swept Brynäs IF Gävle in the quarterfinals before whitewashing SAIK in the semis. The finals get under way April 1 at Kinnarps Arena in Jönköping. If the series goes the full seven games, the deciding match would take place at Löfbergs Lila Arena in Karlstad on April 12.
Gustavsson's team enters the series as the favorite. If form holds, it will be the team's third championship of the decade. Färjestad finished first during the 2008-09 Elitserien regular season with 30-17-8 record (99 points).
The goalie was the fulcrum of the club's success, posting a league-best 1.96 GAA average and .932 save percentage in 42 starts. During the course of the 55-game season, the club scored 158 goals while giving up 122.
In the postseason, FBK has scored 27 goals while allowing just 4.
But it just hasn't been goaltending inn the playoffs for FBK; the club has gotten balanced scoring as well. Fifteen players have tallied at least one goal so far this postseason.
The top producers have been center Anders Bastiansen (2 goals, 9 points), wingers Per Åslund (4 goals, 8 points) and Eero Somervuori
(4 goals, 5 points), as well as defenseman Dominik Granak (1 goal, 6 points).
HV 71 has had a much tougher road to the finals.
After finishing fourth in the regular season with 90 points, the club found itself down three games to one in its quarterfinal series against Timrå IK. The defending champs picked themselves up off the ground and rallied to win the series with 3-1, 3-2 (in overtime) and 4-2 victories.
In the semis, Frölunda HC Gothenburg took a 2-1 series lead only to find that HV 71 would not give up its championship crown without a fight. HV 71 roared back to take the fourth game, 6-1, and the fifth tilt by a 4-1 mark. Both games were played in Gothenburg's Scandinavium.
The deciding match took place at Kinnaps. In front of a sellout crowd (7,038), the home side stayed with it, tallying twice in the second period and twice in the third to win, 4-2. Andreas Falk scored twice for HV 71, while Fredrik Pettersson
put home a pair for vanquished Frölunda.
Because HV 71 has played 13 games to date, the league playoff scoring leader board is dominated by HV 71 players. The top six playoff point-getters are all HV 71 players: Martin Thörnberg (8 goals, 11 points), Falk (4 goals, 11 points), Björn Melin (4 goals 10 points), Jukka Voutilainen (3 goals, 10 points), defenseman David Petrasek
(10 assists) and Mattias Tedenby
(6 goals, 9 points). League regular season Most Valuable Player Johan Davidsson
has 3 goals and 8 points despite missing three games.
Although HV 71 is considered the underdog in the finals, it has a history of coming through when the chips are down. The team has never lost in the finals, taking away three championships in three tries. More important, the team has the confidence of knowing that its own goaltender, Stefan Liv
, is capable of matching Gustavsson save for save. Liv has posted an impressive .940 save percentage and 1.73 GAA in the playoffs.