CIVIC CENTRE - Finland defeated Latvia 5-1, but must still beat Slovakia on New Year’s Eve to qualify for the quarterfinal. Latvia goes to the relegation round.
Finland – Latvia 5-1 (2-0, 3-1, 0-0)
The big question before the game was whether Finland’s forwards would finally start to generate some serious offence. The Finns had only scored three goals in their first two games, both losses (3-1 versus Sweden, 5-2 versus Russia). This was Finland’s first win at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The reply came only two minutes into the game (on a power play) when Teemu Hartikainen dropped a pass to Tomi Sallinen, who flipped the puck past Latvian keeper Nauris Enkuzens.
Nestori Lahde, parked at the doorstep, doubled the lead twelve minutes later after receiving a cross-pass from Niclas Lucenius. The good start allowed Finland the luxury of missing a penalty shot with two minutes left in the opening period. Antti Roppo shot a backhander over the crossbar.
Roppo redeemed himself midway through the second period by notching the 5-0 goal. By then, Finland had basically put the game away after a pair of goals from Mikael Granlund.
Finland outshot Latvia 56-18.
The biggest cheer of the evening from the 9,376 fans came after Latvia’s only goal, 14 minutes into the middle stanza, when Roberts Jekimovs connected with a two-man advantage. That period featured some chippy elements, and saw Latvia’s Vitalijs Pavlovs receiving a game misconduct for kneeing.
For the Finns, the game was just the first step towards securing third place and a spot in the quarter-finals. They must defeat Slovakia on New Year’s Eve. A win in OT or shoot-out will get it done, as both teams have three points each (1W-2L). Finland has never been involved in relegation struggles in the World Juniors.
The Latvians will now head to the relegation round. As they will not carry over any points, the Latvians will most likely have to win both their relegation round games, against Germany and most probably Kazakhstan. They will open their quest to remain in the top division on January 2. Latvia was in the same position two years ago in Vancouver, where their lone relegation round win versus Norway was not enough.
The top two teams in that round will retain elite status and take part in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship in Saskatoon and Regina.
NOTES: This was the first time the two teams have met in the IIHF World Junior Championship. Finland gave goalie Harri Säteri a rest and backup Juha Metsola played in his first game of the championship.
Russia - Slovakia 8-1 (2-1, 4-0, 2-0)
CIVIC CENTRE - With an 8-1 thrashing of Slovakia on Tuesday, Russia set up a New Year’s Eve showdown with Sweden for top spot in Group B. The Russians have won three straight games, while Slovakia has a win and two losses.
The Slovaks will face Finland on New Year’s Eve, which will determine the last Group B team to advance to the Playoff Round.
Captain Nikita Filatov led the way for Russia with a hat trick and an assist, while Sergei Andronov had a goal and three assists. Maxim Goncharov scored two goals, and Igor Golovkov and Sergei Korostin had singles. Maxim Chudinov also racked up three assists.
"We've been playing better and better, and now the team is ready for Sweden," said Filatov.
Adam Bezak scored for Slovakia.
Russia’s Vadim Zhelobnyuk got his first start in goal of the tournament. Overall, Russia outshot Slovakia 31-27.
There was plenty of skating and puck movement but very little hitting in front of the crowd of 9,149, and that suited the Russians just fine.
Filatov was visibly Russia’s most dangerous forward. To kickstart the offence, the Russian captain rang a backhand off the crossbar and, seconds later, raced in and put another backhand through Slovakian goalie Zdenko Kotvan’s legs for a 1-0 lead at 2:12. Filatov had two more exciting solo rushes in the period, including one that knocked the goalie’s mask off as he crashed the net.
The Slovaks had a fine opportunity on a 2-on-1 rush in the eighth minute, but Russian defenceman Mikhail Pashnin played it perfectly, toppling Ondrej Rusnak before he could shoot.
Slovakia tied the game at 13:12 when Bezak’s wrister from the sideboards floated over Zhelobnyuk’s left shoulder.
With 1:26 left in the first, Russia went up 2-1 on the power play when Goncharov’s blueline drive through traffic went through Kotvan’s legs.
The Russians blew the game open with four goals in the second period. Yet another Goncharov shot from the blueline made it 3-1 just over a minute in. Next, working another man advantage, Andronov sent a beautiful feed from behind the goal line to Filatov, who one-timed it from the slot past Kotvan’s right skate at 4:29.
Igor Golovkov’s rising slapper beat Kotvan on the stick side at 8:32 of the second to give Russia a 5-1 lead. That was it for the Slovak goalie, who was replaced by Jaroslav Janus.
Swapping netminders didn’t prove to be a momentum-changer. Filatov completed the hat trick halfway through the game on a great lateral feed from Andronov. The power play goal was reviewed due to potential interference on Janus, but it stood.
When Filatov was asked afterwards whether he realized that his three goals temporarily tied him with Canada's John Tavares for the tournament goal-scoring lead (five), he replied: "No, I don't care about scoring."
The teams skated out an uneventful third period, with Andronov and Korostin adding late goals to round out the scoring.
"This has been a good group for us," said Filatov. "We've had relatively easy games."
In the previous World Junior meeting between these two countries, Russia won 6-2 in Kelowna, British Columbia on December 28, 2006.