Ruutu ends Slovakia's dream

Slovaks knocked out of QF contention, Finns are in

07-05-11
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Ondrej Nepela Arena Bratislava  Slovakia
It's Slovak sorrow and Finnish joy as the Finns rally from a 1-0 deficit. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images

BRATISLAVA – There’s no hope left for the hosts. Tuomo Ruutu scored two quick third-period goals to give Finland a 2-1 win over Slovakia Saturday night and wrap up a quarter-final berth. The Slovaks, with zero points, cannot advance to the next round.

Finland – Slovakia 2-1 (0-1, 0-0, 2-0)
Game Sheet Photos

The result firms up the quarter-finals picture in Group E. The Czechs, Germans, and Russians are now all confirmed. Finland will jockey for quarter-final seeding position in its Qualification Round finale versus Russia on Monday, while the Slovaks will face Denmark in a game that’s only for placement. Slovakia hasn’t made the quarter-finals since 2007.

"You can’t regroup," said Slovak defenceman Milan Jurcina. "That’s it. The tournament is over. We’ll have to try our best for our fans in our last game. We owe it to them."

Despite trailing 1-0 for half the game, the gritty Finns were undeterred. They finally tied it up at 8:14 of the third period when captain Mikko Koivu won a draw in the Slovak zone, Mika Pyörälä promptly fired the puck, and it deflected off Ruutu past Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak from the right faceoff circle.

"I could just laugh," said Ruutu. "Funny, but the first thing I thought of was the old Gretzky quote of how he wanted to end his career in a goal that went in off Esa Tikkanen's butt."

Just over three minutes later, Ruutu blazed down left wing and beat Halak with a blocker-side slapper at 10:26 to put Finland up 2-1. The winning goal wasn't one the St. Louis Blues stopper would normally surrender.

"Especially on the second goal, we played good defence, and that gives you offensive chances too," said Koivu. "It was a great job by Tuomo."

The legendary "home ice curse" persists. No host country has won the gold medal at the IIHF World Championship since the Soviet Union in 1986.

In front of 9,321 spectators at Orange Arena, Marian Gaborik got the lone goal for Slovakia.

"We ended up losing by one goal, and that's hard to take right now, but that's sports," said Slovak head coach Glen Hanlon. "We'll fight another day."

Finland's Petri Vehanen outduelled Halak in goal as Finland outshot Slovakia 35-28.

"Obviously this win is huge," said Koivu. "It gives us some confidence and things get a little easier from here. We’ll enjoy this one tonight and start focusing tomorrow for the Russian game."

It was a classic battle pitting Finnish tenacity versus Slovak skill.

Slovakia got the opening goal for the first time in five games at this tournament, despite Finland’s overall territorial edge in the first period.

With 4:39 left before the buzzer, Finland was caught with too many men on the ice, and the Slovaks took advantage with their second power play of the game. Captain Pavol Demitra held on to the puck seemingly forever at the right faceoff circle before dishing a perfect cross-ice pass to Gaborik, who snapped his second goal of 2011 under the crossbar on Vehanen’s blocker side at 16:21.

Renewed determination marked the Finns in the second period, as they hemmed the Slovaks in and generated chances off the forecheck. But on the first Finnish power play of the game, there weren’t any good shots, and the last laugh went to Miroslav Satan, who gave Vehanen a snow shower after the goalie covered up the puck to guard against a shorthanded break.

After Stümpel was nabbed for roughing on Sami Lepistö in the neutral zone, the Finns continued their pressure, but Halak was alert to knock down a quick Jarkko Immonen shot on the best opportunity.

Yet despite more Finnish flurries, the Slovaks clung to their one-goal lead through two periods.

At the start of the third, Halak robbed a wide-open Mikko Koivu point-blank with a right pad save from the slot. The Slovaks reversed the Finnish tide temporarily with heavy power play pressure after Janne Niskala was sent off for high-sticking. But the hosts couldn't hold on indefinitely, to the delight of the many Finnish fans in attendance.

"We just had to hang in there," said Koivu. "We knew that if we just kept working, we’d get results sooner or later, and we did. We’re happy about it."

"The goals weren't beautiful, but that's what hockey's like these days," added Niko Kapanen.

After the playing of the Finnish national anthem, the Slovak team left the ice to a mingling of cheers and derisive whistles.

The last time Slovakia beat Finland at the Worlds was a 5-2 decision on April 28, 2004 in the Czech Republic.

Finland last climbed on the medal podium with a bronze in Canada 2008.

Slovakia has not won an IIHF World Championship medal since capturing bronze in Finland 2003, and its lone gold came the year before in Sweden.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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