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  3. Two goals in the first game of the series – Nick Baptiste trusts the way the team is playing

Two goals in the first game of the series – Nick Baptiste trusts the way the team is playing

Henri Honkala

It takes only just under four minutes for Ilves’ best regular season goal scorer to net his first Liiga playoff goal. The goal is classic Nick Baptiste. The line’s center Balazs Sebok wins the draw, sends the puck backwards, and the right-shot Baptiste releases a quick snap shot to the upper corner. The Canadian forward finds the net again on powerplay in the second period and shows that he and the team are more than ready for playoff hockey.

Then in the second game of the series, Baptiste continues to show that he is an offensive threat because of his powerful shot and goal-scoring ability. He shoots the second most in the game – six times. Even though he scores no points, ultimately it is the victory that matters in the playoffs. And that is what Ilves achieves in overtime.

– It was a really big win. Kärpät came out strong and wanted to establish their home ice, but I thought we did a good job weathering the storm. It was a tight game, like playoffs are always tight, and you can’t expect to win 5–1 every night. It was nice to see our group respond and show that we can win tight matches. It is nice to be up in the series, but we know job’s not done.

Baptiste talks in the same vein as his childhood idol Kobe Bryant, who said “job’s not finished” when the Lakers were up 2–0 in the NBA finals in 2009. Ilves, too, have work to do. The team has a chance to take a commanding lead on Wednesday already and be one win away from advancing to the semifinals. But three playoff games in four days is tough. For the second game, the team traveled to Oulu by plane to avoid too much travel fatigue and to maximize recovery.

– It was nice to get home quick. Obviously, it makes it a lot easier on the body which is nice. Today we did some preparation to get ready to play, says Baptiste at Nokia Arena.

Image: Anssi Takala

The team trusts themselves

– We are confident in our own game, and we are not worried too much about any of the outside noise or anything past what’s right in front of us. We know that they are a really good team and they’re not going to quit. We’re going to have to be our best tomorrow night if we want to win. So, we are taking it shift by shift past puck drop tomorrow.

Ilves has shown in the first two games that they can defeat Kärpät by playing their own game. Momentum can change during the games, but the better team will always win the whole series.

– If you are not at your best, you are not going to have success. It’s playoff hockey. We are just focusing on our game and giving our best effort, playing our structure, and playing to our strengths. We’ll live with the outcome if we play the way we’re supposed to and the way we know how.

Haapala–Sebok–Baptiste produces

Baptiste and center Balasz Sebok have formed an excellent, and above all productive, duo since the second half of the regular season. Before the playoffs, Sebok said that the duo’s chemistry works and that they’re producing results. “Baps” agrees.

– He’s been awesome. He’s a really smart hockey player, and we’ve been lucky enough to play together for quite a big chunk of the season. We’ve developed some really good chemistry. He’s a pass first guy, and I am more of a shoot first guy, so it works really well. I’ve been able to get myself to areas where he’s been able to find me.

Now the two have a new winger: Henrik Haapala, who ended the second game in overtime. The trio has scored a total of five points against Kärpät in two games in the playoffs.

– We’ve been able to create offense. Haapala is tremendously skilled. Those two guys make unbelievable plays together and find me in good spots. It’s been a privilege to play with them.

Image: Jarno Hietanen

“It helps us raise our level”

Nokia Arena is filling up fast for the third game on Wednesday. The fans could be the slight advantage needed for the win in a game between two even teams. The noise and the cheers in Sunday’s game were fantastic, and there is no doubt it will continue on Wednesday.

– I think they’re some of the best fans that I’ve ever played in front of. They bring a lot of energy in the building and that helps us get in the game. Our focus level is always high, but it also helps when you have that many people backing you and believing in you. You can feel it on the bench, you can feel it when we score a goal, you can feel it when there’s a hit or a blocked shot. It definitely helps us raise our level, and I’m so confident in the fact that it’s going to continue no matter what.

– And some of their chants are pretty funny, Baptiste says with a slight grin.

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Kaksi maalia ensimmäisessä osaottelussa iskenyt Nick Baptiste luottaa joukkueen omaan pelaamiseen