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A fine Finnish brings bronze

Pihlstrom scores twice as Finns earn third straight Worlds medal

17-05-08
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Quebec City Quebec Canada
IIHF President René Fasel hands Finland captain Ville Peltonen the third place plate. Photo: IIHF/HHoF/Matthew Manor

QUEBEC CITY – In the latest chapter of hockey’s great Scandinavian rivalry, Finland defeated Sweden 4-0 to capture the bronze medal on Saturday at the Colisée.

With the win, Finland claimed its third IIHF World Championship medal in as many years (silver in 2007, bronze in 2006).

“We battled well, and we got the win we needed,” said Finnish captain Ville Peltonen. “They had the late game yesterday, so we had an advantage in terms of recovering from the semi-finals. Maybe that helped us.”

Antti Pihlstrom led the way with two goals, including the first-period winner, and Janne Niskala and Mikko Koivu added singles. Hannes Hyvonen got a pair of assists.

“We’ve always had tough battles with Finland over the years,” said Swedish scoring leader Mattias Weinhandl. “In general, we played well the last three or four games and had a chance to win today, but we couldn’t do it.”

Finland was badly outshot, but played an opportunistic game. Niklas Backstrom, who played all but one game for Finland at this tournament, made 36 saves for his first shutout. Stefan Liv, in his third start, had nine stops for the Swedes.

“I think goaltending was the difference,” said Peltonen. “We weren’t that much better than them. But Niklas Backstrom has been good for us throughout the tournament, and he got us the win today."

Tre Kronor has long been the Finns’ international hockey nemesis, notably beating them in the finals of the 1992 and 1998 World Championships, plus the 2006 Olympics. That’s not to mention ousting the Finns with a 6-5 come-from-behind victory in Helsinki in the quarter-finals of the 2003 Worlds.

The previous time Sweden and Finland faced off for bronze was in 2002, where the Finns took a 3-0 lead before losing 5-3. This was a refreshing change for Suomi supporters.

“It was physically tougher to get up for this game than mentally, but it was the same for both teams,” said Swedish defenceman Anton Stralman.

The teams came out skating hard, but stickwork and physical contact were muted, as if there was some kind of gentlemen’s agreement for a third-place game.

The pace had slowed by the time Pihlstrom opened the scoring for Finland at 11:31 on a broken play. Hyvonen’s centering pass from the side boards went to Niko Kapanen in the faceoff circle, who flubbed his shot, allowing the puck to squirt in front to Pihlstrom, and he slammed it past Liv.

Just over two minutes later, Niskala zinged a shot from the right point that tipped off Liv’s glove and in to make it 2-0.

The scoreless second period featured a steady parade to the penalty box, and turned into the Niklas Backstrom Show, as Sweden outshot Finland 11-2.

To maintain Finland’s two-goal gap early in the middle frame, Backstrom made a fantastic sliding stick save on Tony Martensson’s shot from the faceoff circle, and then swept the puck away from the goal line with his glove. Past the midway mark, he used his right pad to stone Daniel Fernholm, who had snuck in off the point on the power play.

In the third period, Hyvonen sent a beautiful pass from the corner to Pihlstrom by Liv’s left post, and the Nashville Predators prospect made no mistake for a 3-0 lead at 42:18.

Vying to get on the scoreboard with the teams playing 4-on-4, the Swedes pulled Liv for an extra attacker at 52:17, but it only lasted 29 seconds, and nothing was generated. They did it again on a late power play, and this time Mikko Koivu made them pay with an empty-netter with 2:25 left.

“Obviously it’s nice to go home with a medal around your neck,” said Peltonen.

Teemu Selanne announced this was his final World Championship. The superstar right winger has played 43 World Championship games, scoring 25 goals and 23 assists, and has not decided yet whether he will continue with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks. “It was great to end my career for Finland with a win,” said Selanne. “We came for gold, and it is only a bronze, but the last game was a win.”

“Playing in the World Championships is tough because it means your NHL season has been cut short, but I hope to be back for the 2010 Olympics,” said Saku Koivu, captain of the Montreal Canadiens.

This was definitely Doug Shedden’s final game as the head coach of the Finnish national team. Next season, he will coach EV Zug in Switzerland, while Jukka Jalonen will run the Finnish Lions.

“All in all, our season was a great success when you consider all the media controversy we had to deal with,” said Finnish GM Jari Kurri. “We finished second in the Euro Hockey Tour, and we got the bronze here. So the season had a happy ending.”

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