BRATISLAVA – Heading into a gold medal game, you need to be optimistic. IIHF.com’s Lucas Aykroyd gives three key best-case reasons why Finland will win today, while Risto Pakarinen does the same for Sweden.
WHY FINLAND WILL WIN
Mikael Granlund makes more magic
Veterans like captain Mikko Koivu and Tuomo Ruutu have been bringing it for the Finns, whether it’s Koivu’s shootout heroics against Germany, Latvia, and Russia or Ruutu’s physicality and ability to score goals in gritty areas. But it’s a budding 19-year-old star from HIFK Helsinki that has made himself the talk of the tournament. And against Sweden, Mikael Granlund can be the hero that Finland has long been seeking to end its runner-up anguish.
It’s no accident that Granlund’s second in team scoring: Jarkko Immonen has benefited greatly from Granlund’s sweet feeds en route to the tournament lead in goals and points. But of course, it’s pucks that young number 64 has personally deposited in the net that people will remember from 2011. As if the shootout goal Granlund tallied against Germany wasn’t spectacular enough, he topped that with the lacrosse-style goal that opened the scoring in Friday’s 3-0 win over Russia. It was precisely the remarkable self-confidence and ingenuity he showed that Finland will need at crunch time against its arch-nemesis. He can do it again.
Finland’s playing with power
The Finns boast the tournament’s second-best power play, clicking at 23.7 per cent so far (nine for 38). It’s coming to life at the right time, too, as the Finns have notched four of those goals in their last two elimination games against Norway and Russia. With the likes of Granlund and Immonen, the Finns are not simply hammering the puck from the point and hoping for a lucky bounce: they’re showing enough finesse to score some nice goals, forcing penalty-killers to keep their distance. Although Sweden and Finland are neck-and-neck in penalty-killing, the Finnish PP is ready to step up with gold on the line.
Finns have their heads on straight
Mental toughness has been an Achilles heel for Finland in the past. It didn’t play its best game in the 2004 World Cup final against Canada, the 2006 Olympic gold medal game against Sweden, or the 2007 IIHF World Championship final against Canada. But this year’s blue-and-white squad is poised to do things differently and end on a winning note.
Apart from losing their Preliminary Round finale to the Czechs, the Finns have risen to the occasion in various ways throughout the tournament. They started off by dumping Denmark 5-1, consigning memories of last year’s opening loss to the Danes to the dustbin. In a game of inches, they’ve come through with not one, not two, but three shootout wins and zero losses in that situation. Despite trailing Slovakia through two periods, they rallied with Tuomo Ruutu’s pair to eliminate the hosts from quarter-final contention in front of the partisan Orange Arena crowd. In fact, the Finns have repeatedly rallied after trailing. You could go on. But the signs are there: these Lions have a killer instinct.
It’s time for them to slay their biggest dragon of all and take down Tre Kronor for their first gold since 1995.
WHY SWEDEN WILL WIN
Too Fasth for you
Sure, goalie Viktor Fasth played in the Swedish second-tier league last season, and yes, he hadn’t played for the national team until about a month and a half ago. But the doubters – if there still are some – can forget about Fasth crumbling under pressure. He’s had too many chances to do it, and nothing seems to faze him. Three shutouts in the World Championship is an impressive feat, even if some of them came in games against the smaller nations. (But aren’t those always the toughest ones for a goalie?)
A goals-against average of 1.00 surely gives his team a chance to win every night. Tonight, too.
Mårts’s boys will take it to the end
Pär Mårts knows his players better than anybody. Not many people believed they could win gold here, despite the players’ talks about going for gold. But then again, Mårts built the nucleus of the team around players that he knew either from the World Juniors, or HV71, his club team before the national team work. There are ten players on this squad that played on Mårts’ World U20 Championship teams that went to the final twice and won the bronze once.
Patrik Berglund, Oliver Ekman Larsson, David Rundblad, Tim Erixson, Mattias Tedenby, Marcus Krüger, Mikael Backlund, Magnus Pääjärvi, Carl Gunnarsson, and Jakob Silfverberg know and trust Mårts. The 2011 World Championship is their chance to finish the job, and this time, they won’t be playing Canada in the final. They’re ready.
Swedes drive to the net, won’t let Finns park there
This Tre Kronor doesn’t cycle the puck like the Sedin twins if there’s a chance to get the puck to the net. And even when they do cycle it in the corner, they actually try to get it to the net as quickly as possible. The Swedes drive to the net, they go for the loose pucks, and they create a lot of traffic in front of the goaltender.
It’s not always pretty, but as Mårts says: “The history books won’t have descriptions of the goals anyway.”
LUCAS AYKROYD & RISTO PAKARINEN