Finland vs. Russia
By Frank McNichol
Everyone knew what was at stake going into this contest; a win for Russia would spell the end of the road for the young guns from North America. An entire continent’s hopes rested solely with Finland, and today those hopes were crushed as Russia cruised to the 3-0 victory.
The first period got off to a lollygagging start. Neither team could assert themselves as the aggressor in the feeling-out process. To give you an idea of the pace of play, Finland recorded their first shot on net 8:44 into the period. The shots on goal battle in the period was won by Russia who outshot Finland 6 to 3. Finland failed to capitalize on both powerplay opportunities they had, while Russia couldn’t convert on the 16 second man advantage they had to end the period. Overall, things were looking good for Finland. The Russians were expected to come out firing and desperate to somewhat redeem themselves for recent early dismissals from international play, but instead came out flat and uninspired. The Finns came out with an objective in mind to neutralize Ovechkin and the Russian offense, which they accomplished with ease.
Where the Finns succeeded in the first, they failed in the second. Russia started off the period with 1:44 of powerplay time. The Finns killed it off with relative ease, and looked to start pushing their offensive pace. Exactly one minute of play later, Mikael Granlund was fed a beautiful pass in the slot by Jori Lehtera and rang a beauty right off the post. The Finns would immediately reap the consequences of missed opportunities when Alex Ovechkin stepped up to the plate with a beautiful cross crease pass to Vladimir Tarasenko for a tap in goal. Finland net minder Tuukka Rask stood no chance on the play, he had to respect Ovechkin’s shot while the Finnish defense failed to find Tarasenko who slipped in right behind them.
Not even two minutes later, a lesser known Russian duo connected for a goal. After some established zone time, Russian center Vadim Shipachyov slipped a pass behind Leo Komarov to winger Ivan Telegin just in front of the right hand side of the red crease line who had a clear horizontal lane to the net and out waited a sprawling Rask for an easy top shelf tally. In the previous period, Telegin valiantly blocked a Patrick Laine slapshot on the penalty kill, further proof that goals heel all wounds.
While Finland would go on to out shoot Russia in the period 6-5, it was the Russians who clearly dominated play.
Going into the third period, the Finns were tasked with having to score at least two goals to tie the game, and seeing as they have only scored one goal in the first two games, they knew it was too tall of a task. Any attack they tried to muster either rang off the pipe or was stopped by Sergei Bobrovsky, who probably didn’t break a sweat the entire game.
3:30 into the third period during a 4 on 4 situation, Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who had a very impressive tournament thus far, was fighting for a loose puck in the offensive zone when he was blindsided by the linesman. The massive hit took Ristolainen out of the play, leaving the puck to Alexei Emelin who fed the puck to Evgeni Malkin on a 2-on-1 rush up the ice with lots of space. Malkin, who was held scoreless the first two games of the tournament, came up smooth with the easy wrister past Tuukka Rask making it a 3-0 lead for Team Russia. Given Team Finland’s bone-dry offensive output, the game may as well have ended there.
The Finns would not be able to muster up any significant offense in the remaining 16:21 of play, and Russia was able to silence their critics and live to fight another day. The shot total for the game was 22-21 in favor of the Russians, which is a good indicator of the slow paced tilt.
For Team Finland, who went winless in three games in the tournament, nothing seeme
d to go their way. Expectations were high for the team despite being placed in the tougher of the two groups, largely because of their exciting young talent. The trio of Aleksander Barkov, Sebastian Aho, and last year’s #2 overall pick Patrick Laine were expected to spark the Finnish offense, but none of them even recorded a point in the three games. Despite the putrid performance, and loss to their arch rival Sweden, the future still looks bright for Finland hockey.
As for Team Russia, they will go on to face Team Canada, a team of horrors for them, this coming Saturday at 8 PM Eastern. Russia’s victory today and second place finish in Group B behind Sweden was enough to quiet the critics for now, but another loss to Team Canada will put them right back on the media skillet. If Team Russia will have any hope of beating Canada, they will need the Tarasenko-Ovechkin connection to remain hot while veterans Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk step up their disappointing play. This team has the offensive firepower and stability in net to compete, but an unproven defensive corps could do them in.
USA vs. Czech Republic
By Sean Ambrosia