BUFFALO – Finland claims back first place in Group A after a convincing 5-1 victory against Germany. The win brings Finland into the final round while Germany has to play against relegation.
Germany showed its two faces of this tournament. In the first period the Germans played with powerful forechecking, but then conceded goal after goal following an evenly played first period.
“We didn't stick to our game plan. The same things went wrong again. We didn't play defence well, and we got off to a bad start,” said Germany’s captain Laurin Braun. “No one feels good right now, but tomorrow is another game.”
The Finns have only unveiled one face so far: the one of a medal contender. Same as in their 4-0 blanking of Switzerland, the Finns showed more technical skill, most notably their superior skating and passing.
“We’re getting to know each other a little better every day. We never played much together before the tournament, but it’s starting to come together. We want to win a medal; it’s been a long time,” Finland’s captain Sami Vatanen makes clear his ambitions.
The first period of the game almost reminded of a World Juniors version of the NHL vs. Soviets clashes, that were once played in the city, with Germany’s North American style of play.
Already a few seconds into the game Germany scared its opponents with aggressive forechecking. Finnish defenceman Nico Manelius lost the puck to Braun just in front of his own net, but Braun, probably surprised about this chance himself, couldn’t capitalize on this opportunity.
At 9:40, Finland’s Rasmus Rissanen continued an unfortunate series of cheap, hazardous hits in this tournament when checking Braun from behind into the boards. Braun could continue while Rissanen got 2+10. The Germans had several shots, but Finland could also have scored shorthanded when Henri Tuominen and Joonas Nättinen had an unsuccessful two-on-one rush.
Same as yesterday against Switzerland, it was Finland’s second line that managed to end the deadlock. And same as yesterday it was Joonas Nättinen, who redirected a puck into the net following a shot from the blue line from Tommi Kivisto at 15:59.
While the Germans might well have planned their race to catch up, the Finns started controlling the game from the second period.
At 6:23 into the middle stanza, Miikka Salomäki scored the 2-0 goal through Philipp Grubauer’s five hole. The goal came after Finland had enjoyed an 8-2 shot-on-goal advantage in the first few minutes of the middle stanza, compared to 13-10 in the first period.
The German resistance definitely broke up in the second half of the middle period.
At 13:47 Joonas Donskoi scored after a back pass from the end boards from Julius Junttila. Only 92 seconds later, Jesse Virtanen scored the 4-0 goal and forced Germany to replace starting goaltender Grubauer by Niklas Treutle for the second time in three games.
“We wanted to play like we did yesterday, get the puck deep and create offence. We were a little slow in the first period, but we got a couple of goals in the second and that made the difference for us,” Vatanen said.
3:28 into the third period, the German Rammstein goal song could eventually be played when Tobias Rieder, after a nice pass from Marcel Noebels, succeeded on a one-man rush by deking Ortio.
With 3:53 left to play Erik Haula restored the four-goal lead, which remained until the final buzzer.
With this win Finland tops the group – although with one more game played than the U.S. – with seven points from three games. And no matter what they do in their last game on Friday against Slovakia, the Finns cannot finish worse than third.
Newly-promoted Germany on the other hand will have to play in the relegation round even if they would beat reigning champion USA tomorrow evening. It will be a tough fight for the Germans at Dwyer Arena as they might go there with only zero or one point after their losses against Slovakia (in OT) and Switzerland.
“We thought we could finish third in our group, but our goal now is, of course, to avoid relegation,” Braun said.