BUFFALO – After losing in overtime against the U.S., Finland regrouped and faced little challenge in dethroning Switzerland from first place with a 4-0 victory.
Joonas Nättinen broke the Swiss resistance with his, and his line's, smart play in the first period, and the blue-and-whites didn’t allow their opponents to find their way back into the game.
The Finns dominated the play from the opening faceoff and had an 18-5 shots-on-goal advantage after the first period, but for a long time they struggled to convert puck possession into quality scoring chances.
Only with the seventh shot against an excellent Benjamin Conz in goal did the Finns challenge for the first time. At the other end, the Swiss hardly managed to create offensive action in the first period apart from a Nino Niederreiter breakaway at 13:35 and two shots on a power play.
The Finnish penalty kill worked as well and at the other end the team seemed to capitalize on its first man advantage. Joonas Nättinen passed the puck to the right side to Joel Armia, and the puck went in, but referees disallowed the goal at 16:22 after a video review because the net came off its moorings before the puck crossed over the goal line.
With 19 seconds remaining in the first period, Nättinen obstructed Conz’ view to tip in the puck and open the scoring following a long shot from Toni Rajala. It was a late, but well deserved goal for Finland.
"I was in the right place, I guess. It was a bit lucky," Nättinen said of his game-winning goal. "We knew they came out hard against Germany the last game and went ahead 4-0, so we wanted to make sure we were ready for them."
They definitely were, especially the line with Nättinen, Rajala and Armia that was most active in the first period.
Just 25 seconds into the second period it was again Rajala who initiated a great scoring chance. He attempted to deke Conz before skating behind the net and trying to score from behind by banking a shot off Conz’ pads.
"We started pretty well, skated a lot and our goalie was excellent, again. I don't know why we struggled in scoring, but after the second period it went better," Rajala said. "The Swiss were hard-hitting, but we were a bit surprised about their passive play and expected more skating from them."
At 4:37 Jaakko Turtiainen punished the still passive Swiss play when he scored the 2-0 goal on a rebound following some nice tic-tac-toe passing in the Swiss zone and a shot from Jyrki Jokipakka.
An ugly hit from behind into the boards from Sami Vatanen against Gregory Hofmann gave the Swiss the opportunity to play five-on-three for 70 seconds, but even with the two-man advantage the Swiss showed little self-confidence. Iiro Pakarinen even had a breakaway, but Conz prevented a double shorthander with his save.
Teemu Pulkkinen extended the lead at 4:37 of the third period after a rinkwide pass from Erik Haula, and at 7:51 Julius Junttila made it 4-0 on a fine rush, splitting the Swiss defence and beating Conz. The Swiss resistance was definitely broken.
"I think the third period was easier for us. It seemed they didn’t try as hard, and we were pretty much in control," Rajala said.
Nine minutes into the third period Hofmann had the best chance to score the consolation goal for the Swiss when shooting on a rebound in front of an empty net, but a Finnish defenceman blocked the drive at the last moment.
It seemed a day to forget for the Swiss, who will play Slovakia on Thursday in a game that could potentially determine which of those two teams will reach the quarterfinals.
"We didn’t come out hard enough in the first period. It took us way too long to get into the game and it was too late," Switzerland’s captain Nino Niederreiter commented the game. "We can’t lose 4-0 like that."
Finland will face Germany tomorrow and Slovakia on Friday. With four points from two games, the Finns are far from being through yet, but they gained self-confidence in the right time.