HELSINKI – Finland overcame a slow start against France to earn a 3-1 victory Monday night at Hartwall Arena. The host Finns remain unbeaten through three games.
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Juhamatti Aaltonen had a goal and an assist, and Janne Pesonen and Ville Viitaluoma also tallied for Finland. Team scoring leader Petri Kontiola added two helpers.
"We made it a little too difficult for ourselves," said Kontiola. "It wasn't anything they did, we made it difficult. Something's still missing from our game."
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had the lone marker for France.
In a battle of backup goalies, Finland’s Joni Ortio outdueled France’s Fabrice Lhenry and Florian Hardy. Shots on goal were even at 22 apiece.
Remarkably, the game remained scoreless past the halfway mark. France played sound defence and the Finns couldn’t get their offence going despite superior speed and puck-moving ability. As the teams exchanged power plays, the French started to gain confidence with flurries around Ortio’s cage.
But with under six minutes left in the second period, things went wrong for the French.
For a moment, it looked promising. Bellemare had Ortio beat with a quick wrister on the rush, but it bounced off the Finnish goalie’s left post.
Seconds later, Sami Lepistö found Kontiola unobstructed in front of the French cage, but Lhenry foiled him with the glove.
Pesonen opened the scoring on the power play at 14:41, waltzing off the right side boards into the slot, where he unleashed a zinger that beat Lhenry high to the glove side.
Thirty-eight seconds later, Aaltonen took a perfect backhand cross-crease feed from Kontiola and slammed it home for a 2-0 lead. Now the Finnish flag-wavers in the crowd of 12,158 were in a happy uproar.
"There was a bit of a scrum in front of the net, but I saw [Aaltonen] at the far post, so I tried to get the puck through to him," Kontiola said.
The Finns had a chance to pad their lead late in the second period with a 5-on-3, but couldn’t get anything going.
Just 43 seconds into the final stanza, France cut the deficit to 2-1. A forechecking Sacha Treille grabbed the puck on the end boards and threw it out front to Bellemare, who made no mistake.
"It's not easy to play against a team that defends well, and then looks to score on counterattacks or the power play," said Finland's Juha-Pekka Hytönen.
The Finns promptly got caught with too many men on the ice and France pressed with the ensuing power play, but failed to capitalize.
France's Hardy came in to relieve Lhenry with 12:26 remaining, similar to how Lhenry relieved Cristobal Huet with about 15 minutes left versus Slovakia. But Hardy didn’t get an easy introduction. Ossi Väänänen's point shot was tipped in by Viitaluoma 58 seconds later and it was 3-1 Finland.
There would be no grand French comeback. They tried to pull their goalie in the final minute, but wound up taking a too many men on the ice penalty of their own instead.
"I think we played a good game," said France's Yohan Auvitu. "The first period was really good. We won our game yesterday, and that was really important, because now we have three big nations in a row: Finland, Russia, and the USA."
The Finns take on the Americans on Wednesday.
The French have now lost seven straight World Championship games all-time to Finland, dating back to 1993.
France played without captain Laurent Meunier, who returned to Geneva before the game for the birth of his child.