No room for error

Pressure – pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure – that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

– Queen, “Under pressure”

The playoff race is on, and for many teams, that means that the pressure, too, is on. But going for a playoff spot and missing it, while sure a disappointing experience, is nothing compared to the pressure that a team trying to avoid relegation feels.

Even with the pressure, a missed playoff spot is just a missed opportunity to get to the throne. Life goes on.

A relegation from the top division, on the other hand, is the end, a complete dismissal from the court, a disaster on all levels.

Couldn't deal with the pressure.

That’s why Stockholm’s Djurgården (and its fans) are starting to feel the panic. Even the thought of playing for their spot in the Elitserien is frightening, even if there’s still a good chance that they will finish in the top 2 of the double round-robin against the best teams in the second division, and play in the Elitserien next season as well.

Djurgården’s second-to-last-place position in the standings is all the more shocking when we consider the fact that the team was one of the favorites to win the Swedish championship this season. Yes, they were supposed to be playing hockey in April, but they were supposed to be gearing up towards a long playoff run, not play for their lives.

About a month ago, on January 30, Djurgården fired their coach Hardy Nilsson. Djurgården had gone from seventh to 11th in two weeks and even though the Elitserien parity is on par with that of the NHL’s, firing of the coach was an effort to give the team the boost the management thought it needed to get over the hump, and into the playoffs.

After all, the team was just two points from seventh place, with a game in hand.

And then the sky came falling down. Djurgården has scored just twelve goals in eight games and has a 2-6 record since the change.

Even worse, the last playoff spot is now six points away, and the team has to focus on trying to avoid the qualification series, and claw their way back to tenth place. Dry land is two points away, and with five games remaining – and each regulation win giving three points – it’s possible, especially since DIF will play Linköping, the team ahead of them, at home in Stockholm on Tuesday.

The pressure will be on.

They say that anything can happen in Kvalserien, the qualification series, and they say it because it’s true. In 2009-10, Stockholm AIK lost three of their first four games, but finished stronge and earned promotion to Elitserien. Last year, AIK and Modo went head to head in the last game of the regular season. AIK won the game, Modo went from 9th to 11th, and had to play for its Elitserien spot which it clinched in the last game of the Kvalserien when it beat Södertälje. AIK, in turn, grabbed the last playoff spot and then went to the second round in the playoffs.

In the long run, playing for the Elitserien spot is nothing unusual. In the last 15 years, there have been 19 different clubs in Elitserien. Three of the eight teams currently holding onto playoff spots weren’t even in Elitserien five years ago and of the 12 clubs in the Elitserien this season, only two have played all 37 seasons in the top division – Brynäs and Färjestad – and even Djurgården has been in the Kvalserien, albeit a long time ago, in 1982.

Then again, as John Maynard Keynes, the British economist once cracked, “In the long run, we’re all dead”.

What matters for Djurgården, is here and now.

The team’s too good to get relegated from Elitserien, but right now, they’re not playing to win, they’re playing not to lose, and even more so should they end up in Kvalserien. That’s when the pressure really gets turned on. On the line there is the club’s reputation, its Elitserien spot, and with it, almost 3 million euro which is what the Elitserien clubs get for their TV contract annually.

This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
Under pressure

How does that make you feel?