Good enough Finnish

FIN-CZE, CAN-SUI in quarter-finals

31.12.2013
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Finland's Henrik Haapala (#25) jumps up and as the puck sails over his head while Switzerland's Yannick Rathgeb (#27) and Marco Müller (#21) look on. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

MALMÖ – Finland came second in Group B despite losing 4-3 to the Swiss in a shootout. The Finns face the Czechs while Switzerland takes on Canada in the quarter-finals.

Switzerland's Claude Paschoud, the twelfth shooter, scored the only goal in the shootout. It was the last New Year's Eve game, and now the playoffs loom large.

Flavio Schmütz, Fabrice Herzog and Nico Dunner scored for Switzerland, which finished fourth in Group B with five points.

"I’m glad we got the win because it’s important to have a good feeling before the quarter-finals," said Switzerland's Marco Müller. "I hope we can go on like this in the game against Canada."

Ville Pokka, Aleksi Mustonen and Saku Mäenalanen scored for Finland, which wound up with seven points.

"We didn’t play the way we wanted, but we got one point and second place in the group," said Pokka. "We have to keep looking forward to the quarter-finals."

The Finns had a hard time finding their rhythm against a determined Swiss squad. Last year in Ufa, the Swiss were sixth, while Finland underachieved with a seventh-place finish.

After the Swiss went up 3-1, Finnish starter Ville Husso was pulled halfway through the game for Juuse Saros. Melvin Nyffeler went the distance for Switzerland, which was outshot 40-34.

Of facing the Czechs next, Saros said: "I think it’s going to be a tough one. They’ve got lots of skill and they move the puck fast."

The Finns were undermanned for the second straight game. Star defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen (illness) and top-line forward Artturi Lehkonen (leg injury) also were sidelined during the 4-1 victory over Russia.

Past the midway mark of the first period, the Finns nearly opened the scoring on an odd-man break where Ville Leskinen fed Topi Nättinen and he rang it off Nyffeler’s post. A couple of minutes later, Nyffeler stoned Saku Kinnunen from close range.

With 1:10 left in the second period, the Swiss drew first blood. Flavio Schmütz zipped down left wing and unleashed a wrister that handcuffed Husso, fluttering over his glove.

The Finns redeemed themselves for that blunder with 26 seconds left. Poised in the left faceoff circle, Pokka one-timed a nice cross-ice pass from Esa Lindell high into the Swiss net to tie it up on the power play.

In the second period, the Swiss kept coming. Just before the seven-minute mark, Herzog managed to shovel in a loose puck down on his knees in a scrum.

At 9:49, Dunner went to the net and gobbled up a juicy rebound that Husso surrendered on Marco Muller’s initial shot, backhanding it past the goalie’s outstretched left pad for a 3-1 Swiss lead. This wasn't the way the Finns had imagined things going.

That was it for Husso, who was yanked by Finnish coach Karri Kivi in favour of incumbent Juuse Saros.

"There wasn’t much time to think about it when I got on the ice," said Saros. "I just tried to go save by save and play my game."

The Finns responded as desired to the goaltending switch with a goal just 40 seconds later. Henri Ikonen hustled down the left side and whacked a shot toward the Swiss net, and Mustonen surprised Nyffeler by deflecting it in high on the short side, cutting the deficit to 3-2.

Mäenalanen evened the score at 3-3 just 35 seconds into the third period, reaching back to tip in a Teuvo Teräväinen shot. The play was video-reviewed and it was determined that it wasn’t a high stick.

Switzerland had a huge opportunity to go ahead again with a mid-period two-man advantage, but couldn’t capitalize against the tournament-leading Finnish penalty kill.

Penalties hurt Switzerland's hopes down the stretch. The Finns thought they had the power play winner with 3:17 left, but the goal was waved off due to a crease violation.

Then the Finns had a scare of their own when Mustonen was sent off for high-sticking with under three minutes left. Saros had to be sharp when Kevin Fiala whirled out of the corner to test him from right in front.

"I thought before the game that we could beat the Finns," said Müller. "We played well against the Swedes. We didn’t play well against the Russians, but I thought the whole game that we could win this one."

Finland's last World Junior medal was bronze in 2006. The Swiss won their only medal in 1998, also bronze.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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