The Naisten Liiga playoffs are set

Six teams will play for the prettiest trophy in sports.

The battlefield for the Aurora Borealis Cup is drawn.

Six teams are in it to win it: Espoo Blues and Tampereen Ilves earned a pass directly to the semifinals due to finishing first and second in the Naisten Liiga respectively. KalPa, HPK Hämeenlinna, Kuortane, and Oulun Kärpät all qualified for the quarterfinals starting Saturday Feb. 23. Each series is determined by a best-of-three.

HPK made the playoffs by finishing first in the Alempi Jatkosarja (lower division), sixth overall with 51 points. They face a tough road to the semifinals through back-to-back champions Kärpät.

The other series pits KalPa against Kuortane. KalPa are coming off a great regular season; they finished third in the standings this year, three places higher than last year’s sixth. Their offense has been dangerous all season long, led by the league’s top two scorers Tanja Niskanen and Matilda Nilsson.

Q&A with Tanja Niskanen

At the other end of the league’s spectrum is the upcoming relegation. Since the 2018-19 expansion plans were already in place no one was relegated down to the Mestis last season, but both KJT Haukat and Rauman Lukko managed to hold onto their positions in 2017. Now, two years later, both teams have to try again, this time against HIFK Naiset and RoKi.

Lukko lost their two best players in the offseason. Forward Susanna Tapani moved to TPS Turku and goaltender Eveliina Suonpää joined Linköping HC in the SDHL. While the team misses Tapani’s deadly scoring, Suonpää is arguably the bigger loss. She managed a .949 save percentage in 2017’s six relegation games with a leaky defense and weak offense in front of her. Now, with Suonpää gone, Lukko is going to need huge performances all over the ice if they hope to hold their position.

Meanwhil KJT struggled all year long, finishing last in the Naisten Liiga with 20 points in 30 games played with a 6-22-0-2 record.

The relegation matches start on Feb. 23, same day as the playoffs.

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