BRATISLAVA Ė In another close game between the two teams, it was the Czech Republic that came out on top, beating Finland 2-1, and securing six points to the Qualification Round.
Finland vs. Czech Republic 1-2 (0-0, 0-1, 1-1) Game Sheet Photos
"They knew the importance of the game. They wanted to win the game as badly as we did but we played the way we wanted to and our goalie played awesome," said Czech forward Martin Havlat.
Milan Michalek and Jaromir Jagr scored for the Czechs while Ondrej Pavelec made 31 saves. Anssi Salmela scored Finland's lone goal.
Finland and the Czech Republic almost always seem to clash at key points in international events, which makes it an excellent rivalry. Last year, in the Vancouver Olympics, Finland beat the Czechs 2-0 in the quarter-finals, only to be at the receiving end at the World Championship in Cologne, losing the quarter-final after a penalty shootout.
The games are usually close, with little scoring, but theyíre also a battle for every inch on the ice.
Today was no exception. The game was intense and physical. And it was huge. The winner would advance with six points, making the path to the playoff stage a little easier.
"It was a tough game, and not to underestimate our previous games, this felt like the first tough game here, and it showed. Everybody gave their all," said Finnish defenceman Topi Jaakola.
Sometimes, like today, the battle leads to a lot of penalties, and tonight was one of those times. The first period ended in a little bit of a scrum for which Finlandís Mikko Koivu got a cross-checking penalty, and the Czech Republicís Jan Marek 2+10. All in all, Finland had seven minor penalties in the first two periods, the Czechs five.
With each penalty the momentum shifted to the other team. First, it was Finland who pushed the Czechs to their heals and created a few scoring chances. Late in the period, the Czechs had a two-man advantage, but they couldnít capitalize.
"Both teams had good scoring chances, we did, too, but at the same time, both goalies had a good day at the office as well," said Jaakola.
In the second, the Czech power play finally clicked. First Patrick Elias played the puck to defenceman Karel Rachunek who found Marek Zidlicky in the corner. Zidlicky held on to the puck and waited until Milan Michalek got rid of the Finnish defenceman and took two steps towards centre ice, then passed the puck to him, and Michael onetimed it past Petri Vehanen to give the Czechs a 1-0 lead in the game at 4:24.
The Finns got a difficult start for the last period as Tuomo Ruutu got a boarding minor just 33 seconds into the period after he had pushed Jaromir Jagr into the boards. The Czechs managed to kill off the penalty, but seconds after that Ruutu got back on the ice, Jagr grabbed a rebound in front of Vehanenís net and made it a two-goal uphill for the Finns at 2:48.
The first half of the period was something of a Jaromir Jagr Show, with his line creating several great scoring chances. And when Jagr wasnít on the ice, his goal or face was shown on the scoreboard to the great joy of the mostly Czech crowd.
With 6:21 remaining in the period, Finland got its chance, another power play opportunity. And the Finns pressed and fought, and pushed the Czechs to their heels, but could not beat Pavelec in the Czech goal.
Until it was a little too late. With just 20 seconds remaining, with Finland playing with six skaters, Anssi Salmela's slap shot found a way through the traffic in front of the net, and killed Pavelec's shutout.
"We had a lot of scoring chances, I think we had over 20 chances on power play, but we just couldn't score. Their goalie played a great game, covered down low, and we couldn't get the puck high enough," said Finland's coach Jukka Jalonen.
Both teams advance to the Qualification Round, together with Denmark. the Czechs start the next round with six points, Finland has three, and Denmark zero.
"There's no point in calculating who needs to beat whom, it's more carpe diem, you just have to live in the now, that's just the way it is," said Jaakola.
The Czech Republic's next game is a much anticipated game against Slovakia.
"Itís been fun for us. Itís almost like playing at home. The fans are great, and itís almost like having another player on the ice. Weíll see how many we get when we play against Slovakia," said Havlat.