BRATISLAVA – In a battle for quarter-finals seeding, Finland rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to earn a 3-2 shootout victory over Russia on Monday at Orange Arena.
Russia – Finland 2-3 (2-0, 0-2, 0-0, 0-0, 0-1) Game Sheet Photos
Jarkko Immonen and Mikko Koivu scored on Russia's Alexander Barulin in the shootout, while Finnish goalie Teemu Lassila stymied Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Morozov. Lassila replaced starter Petri Vehanen early in the game after the Russians jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
"Penalty shots seem to be good for us in the tournament," said Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen. "Russia is a good team, but we tried hard and came back."
In regulation time, Nikolai Kulyomin and Ilya Nikulin scored for Russia. Mikko Koivu and Janne Niskala scored for Finland.
The result leaves Finland in second place in Group E before the last evening game, while the Russians remain fourth, and will face the winner of Canada-Sweden in the quarter-finals.
Interestingly, Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov did not pull his goalie for an extra attacker in the late stages of regulation. Only a three-point win could have moved Russia up in the standings, while a regulation loss would make no difference.
"We couldn’t stay in the Finnish zone, so we couldn’t pull the goalkeeper," Bykov said.
Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet for the second straight game.
"We have to play better than this in the quarter-final, because we'll face an even better team than today," said Kovalchuk. "We have to play our best hockey if we want to get through."
The Russians got off to a stellar start.
In front of 9,222 spectators, hulking forward Yevgeni Artyukhin picked up where he left off against the Czech Republic with ferocious hitting, including an open-ice knock-down of Antti Pihlström in the early going. His forechecking also led to the opening Russian goal at 4:36. Artyukhin caused a turnover, Dmitri Kulikov eventually got the puck and shot from the left point, and Nikolai Kulyomin tipped it past Vehanen.
"They wanted us to focus on [Artyukhin], so we didn't want to give him too much attention," said Finland's Tuomo Ruutu. "It's better to keep an eye on Ovechkin and Kovalchuk."
At 4:37, the Russians took a 2-0 lead when Danis Zaripov sent a nice centering pass from behind the goal line to Nikulin, who promptly snapped it past Vehanen. At that point, the Russians had only taken five shots. The Finns, clearly discombobulated, called a timeout and replaced Vehanen with Lassila.
The Russians continued to dominate, the opening frame, outshooting Finland 14-3. Lassila robbed Ovechkin in tight with his mitt, and stopped a great Vitali Atyushov one-timer on a Russian power play.
Finland came out harder in the second period, and Barulin was forced to stone Niko Kapanen and Leo Komarov on back-to-back, point-blank chances. At 6:59, the Finns finally got on the board when Mikko Koivu beautifully tipped in a point drive by Pasi Puistola.
With the teams playing 4-on-4, Finland got the 2-2 goal from Niskala at 16:39 of the second. Jarkko Immonen won a draw in the Russian end and got it back to Niskala, who sent a howitzer over Barulin’s glove.
"We had too many mistakes and the game went into another direction," said Bykov.
Russia pressed for the go-ahead goal in the third period. Ovechkin narrowly failed to set up Maxim Afinogenov on a 2-on-1, and then nearly got in by himself seconds later, upended at the last instant by Sami Lepisto. Artyukhin caused more havoc, driving hard to the net and luring Jani Lajunen into a holding penalty.
Halfway through the third, Ovechkin had a perfect opportunity to get the third goal when he burst in from centre ice on a breakaway, but Lassila wasn’t fooled by his slow forehand deke. Kovalchuk also got loose to unleash a quick shot from the high slot, but Lassila’s glove was there to say no.
Finland failed to convert with a long 5-on-3 man advantage despite establishing good pressure. After regulation wound down, overtime settled nothing and it was off to the shootout.
Afterwards, the Finnish fans chanted "Teemu!" to salute their goalie's terrific performance. Russia outshot Finland 35-32.
"We're pretty calm even if we're losing," said Finland's Ossi Väänänen. "We'll just go out and play, and we don't think too much. That's a pretty good place for a player to be in."
On Finland’s fourth line, new addition Lajunen replaced healthy scratch Janne Lahti, who topped the SM-Liiga with 37 goals for Jokerit this season.
Russia is seeking its fifth straight medal at the IIHF World Championship and first gold since 2009. Finland hasn’t medaled since 2008’s bronze.