SOCHI - The boys in blue get to leave Sochi with bronze around their necks. Scoring two goals in the first period, Finland held on the rest of the way, defeating Russia 2-1 to claim the bronze medal at the 2013 IIHF U18 World Championship.
Kasperi Kapanen had the game-winning goal, and goaltender Juuse Saros made 24 saves to earn Best Player honours.
"We gave up too many penalties against Canada and in other games," said Kapanen. "And today we just took the odd-man rushes away and Russia didn't really have anything after that."
Down 2-1 in the third period, Russia needed to play its best hockey to get itself back in the game, as aside from a nice goal by Vladimir Tkachyov the team had all but sleepwalked through the first two periods. Part of the reason was the Finnish defence, which played cautiously throughout the game, limiting penalties and avoiding giving up odd-man rushes to the Russians.
It was a quick turnaround for the Finns, who lost a close semi-final game to Canada on Friday.
"Last night I went through the (Canada) game in my mind, but I woke up today and got over it and just made myself refocus for this game," said Saros. "But I have to give credit to my defence, they made things much easier for me today."
Midway through the period, a scrum in front of the net got the home crowd screaming goal when it looked that Pavel Buchnevich had pushed the puck into the net. But the goal was waved off as the whistle blew before the puck had crossed the line.
Finnish goaltender Juuse Saros stood tall the rest of the way, denying the Russians on a number of great scoring opportunities. With under a minute left to go and the goaltender on the bench, an open shot by Tkachyov sailed wide over the net, the last chance the Russians would have to tie the game.
"It's really easy to say, he's the best player on our team," said Kapanen of Saros. "I could say he's the best goalie of the tournament, we certainly wouldn't have made it all this way without him."
Finland last won a U18 medal at the 2010 World Championship in Minsk, defeating Russia 5-1 to claim bronze.
Russia, going for its second bronze medal in three years, fell behind early on. Just 34 seconds into the game, Artturi Lehkonen got the puck in space and skated to the top of the right circle, firing a wristshot straight into the top corner.
"I blame myself for the goal," said a dejected Shestyorkin after the game.
A second goal from the Finns midway through the period silenced the home crowd at the Bolshoy. Following a clean faceoff win by Otto Rauhala, Kasperi Kapanen took a shot on net, Russian goaltender Igor Shestyorkin making the initial save but giving up a big rebound that went straight out and back onto Kapanen’s stick. Kapanen fired a second high shot from his knees, beating Shestyorkin this time glove side to put his team up 2-0.
A boarding penalty on Kapanen midway through the second period breathed new life into Russian offence, which up until that point had been stagnant.
A great deke by Vladimir Tkachyov putting the puck through the legs of defender Alex Lintuniemi and then past goaltender Juuse Saros brought the crowd back into the game and Russia within a goal, 2-1.
But Tkachyov's goal would be the only one for the Russians. After the game, head coach Igor Kravchuk expressed disappointment at the opportunities missed by the tournament hosts, who will leave Sochi with no hardware to show for it.
"The main issue why we lost in this championships was our problems with our defence, but also with the missed scoring chances." said head coach Igor Kravchuk. "It was my first championship and if I have another chance to coach this team I would do things a little differently."
Finland, the champions of the first two U18 World Championships, adds a seventh medal to its U18 collection, and a fourth bronze.