COLOGNE – There was always the chance that Belarus's tight defence and goaltender Andrei Mezin were going to make things difficult for Finland. Second period goals by Jarkko Immonen and Juha-Pekka Hytönen got Finland the win it wanted.
"Today was our second game in 24 hours, we were tired, and it showed," Mezin said.
Pekka Rinne recorded the shutout for Finland, making 18 saves.
"The game went like we expected. Pekka Rinne made a great comeback, and showed everybody why he is considered one of the best goalies in the NHL. It was an OK game, not great, but not bad, either," said Jussi Jokinen.
Sometimes, games go exactly according to the unwritten manuscript, including some of the hardships that the favourite has to endure along the way to victory.
The fact that Finland outshot Belarus 13-6, and created a half a dozen good scoring chances and hit the post twice in the first period, wasn’t a surprise to the Belarusian players, or their goalie, Andrei Mezin. The game was going according to plan, as far as they were concerned. No need to panic.
The Finns, on the other hand, didn't have to worry about not scoring any goals in the first period, either. They knew that Belarus would try to defend their goal with all five skaters, and try to score the necessary goals either with a quick transition game or on the power play. Finland would just have to focus on their own play, hold onto the puck, and pepper Mezin with shots.
"We knew how they'd play, that they're strong in the transition game. We put pressure on their defencemen and got turnovers in their zone," said Sami Vatanen, the 18-year-old defenceman, playing in his first World Championship.
At 5:57 into the second period, Finland got their power play opportunity when Belarus got a “too many men on the ice” team penalty. The Finns cycled the puck around the Belarus zone quickly, and then Antti Miettinen sent the puck to Jarkko Immonen who was standing on the goal line next to the net. A right-hand shot, Immonen received the puck on his forehand, and then sent it past Mezin with a quick wraparound shot, next to the left post.
"I've had chances there before, there's a little space, so I can pass the puck to the middle, or try to do something myself," said Immonen, who leads his team in goal scoring, with three.
"That just shows the sorry state of our offence if I'm the leading goal scorer, we have to come up with something," he joked.
Belarus had a few chances in the second period, but the game seemed to be over when Juha-Pekka Hytönen, Immonen's Jyväskylä teammate from last year, beat Mezin low on the gloveside with a slapshot from the point at 12:19.
In the third, Finland made sure the game didn't slip away. And it didn't.
"They have great speed and it is hard to compete. We didn't have a great second period," Mezin said.
His teammate Kiril Gotovets was carried off on a stretcher in the second period, after his was checked to the boards by Finland's Oskar Osala. No penalty was called in the situation, but Gotovets was taken to a hospital with concussion-like symptoms.
Finland's next game is on Monday, against Slovakia. Belarus takes on Germany on Sunday night.