MALMÖ – Top seed in Group B is still up for grabs after Finland beat Russia 4-1 on Monday afternoon. Henrik Haapala potted the winner in the second period.
Finland wraps up its round-robin against Switzerland on New Year’s Eve, while the Russians face group-leading Sweden earlier that day.
If the Finns beat the Swiss in regulation time and Russia defeats Sweden in regulation time, there'll be a three-way tie for first place, and the seeding will be determined by goal differential in the games between these three teams.
The Finns won't take the Swiss for granted. "They skate really well. It’ll be a fast game tomorrow.," said defenceman Ville Pokka.
Saku Mäenalanen, Rasmus Kulmala and Joni Nikko also scored for Finland against Russia, while captain Teuvo Teräväinen added a pair of assists.
It was a positive sign for the Finns, who are attempting to avenge last year's underwhelming seventh-place finish.
Valeri Vasiliev replied for Russia. This was the first time Russia's offense has been held in check in this tournament: it produced 18 goals in the first two games.
"We made our best game in the last two games," said Russia's Nikita Zadorov. "Maybe this was just a bad day for us today. We’ll watch some video, watch our mistakes, and [try not to repeat them] tomorrow."
Russian goalie Ivan Nalimov got his first start of the tournament after relieving Andrei Vasilevski halfway through the opening 11-0 romp over Norway. Nalimov, who shone for Russia during the exhibition Subway Super Series in Canada in November, gave up a couple of suspect goals. He was outdueled by Finland’s Jusse Saros as the Finns outshot Russia 31-29.
"We played very well," said Saros. "We didn’t give a lot of scoring chances to Russia, and our defence was amazing. I think everything worked today for us."
Finnish head coach Karri Kivi was missing two key players. Defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen was nursing a fever, while Artturi Lehkonen, with a leg injury, was replaced on the top line by Haapala.
"We had a few guys out, but other guys stepped up," said Pokka "It was a big win for us."
Overall, it was a cautious contest between two medal contenders.
In an evenly played first period, the Russians were a little more opportunistic. They opened the scoring at 5:27 as Pavel Buchnevich made a beautiful pass from the corner that found an unguarded Vasilev in front, and the defenceman put it past Saros.
At 2:21 of the second period, the Finns tied it up on the power play. After winning a faceoff in the Russian end, Teräväinen and Pokka worked the puck around and found Mäenalanen just above the hash marks. He made no mistake, beating Nalimov on the glove side.
Finland took a 2-1 lead on a soft goal at 10:20. From the right side boards, Haapala slid the puck toward the goal along the ice and it got through Nalimov.
"I just shot," said Haapala. "I was a little bit surprised. I think Saku [Mäenalanen] tried to tip it."
With 4:53 left in the middle frame, the Finns jumped into a 3-1 lead when Nalimov couldn’t contain Juuso Ikonen’s wrist shot from right wing on the rush, and the rebound popped out to Kulmala, who fired it into the gaping net.
Finland's Julius Honka was sent off a couple of minutes later for hitting Ivan Barbashyov from behind, but Russia couldn't cash in with the man advantage.
At 7:39 of the third, the Finnish power play struck again, with Joni Nikko taking Henri Ikonen's centering pass on the rush and whipping it past Nalimov's glove.
The Russians couldn't muster a comeback, even with a subsequent 5-on-3 man advantage. The Finns' disciplined positioning kept their foes at bay, and a deflected Alexei Bereglazov shot off the crossbar was as good as it got for coach Mikhail Varnakov's squad.
Finland is seeking its first World Junior medal since 2006’s bronze. Russia has medalled three years in a row, and its last medal was also bronze: it came third last year on home ice in Ufa.
With the result, Russia’s all-time World Junior record versus Finland fell to 24 wins, two ties, and 10 losses.