HALIFAX – Finland's medal hopes improved today with a 3-2 quarterfinal win over Team USA as Sami Lepisto's overtime goal puts his team over the top. Finland beat Team USA by a similar score on Monday in the Qualifying Round. The Finns will play Russia in the early semifinal game on Friday.
A spirited Team USA side fought for space on the ice all night before finally overcoming a two goal deficit in the final five minutes of regulation.
"Obviously we are disappointed," said Zach Parise. "We made a great comeback and did not quit."
Both teams came out careful not to take any unnecessary chances. The Finns were more defensively cautious of the two teams and gave away almost nothing. As the game wore on, the Finns were more effective in bottling up the United States and setting the style of play as close quarter hockey.
"I think we only played one bad minute the whole game," said Teemu Selanne. "We dominated and were in control and believed we deserved to win."
On only their third shot of the period, Tuomo Ruutu scored his fourth goal of the tournament. Ruutu's backhand swat went between Robert Esche's pads at 9:46 and gave the Finns a 1-0 lead. Olli Jokinen, returning after a one game suspension, assisted on the goal.
Finland seemed content to chip the puck out of their zone and play defensive hockey. Almost nothing was left to chance as most skating and passing lanes were shut off for the Americans despite outshooting Finland 8-6 in the period.
Finland would come out in the middle period showing more offensive life. Mikko Luoma had a good chance about two minutes into the frame and the action was squarely in the American end.
When Matt Greene was whistled off for high sticking, Finland's power play went on the attack. Wasting no time, Janne Niskala sent a blast that went through everyone and on in the net at 5:45.
Given the tight defensive scheme the Finns were employing, the Americans would have their work cut of for them in getting back into the game.
Tenacious penalty killing by Lee Stempniak when Jordan Leopold was in the box produced two good scoring chances; one went wide and the other was saved by Backstrom. Those were among the best chances for Team USA in the period.
There was a delay near the end of the first period when a pane of glass in the American zone came loose on the far boards. The teams were sent off the ice and the remaining 1:18 was added onto the third.
Heading into the third period, the United States was down two goals and twenty minutes from elimination. They would have to produce a strong effort in busting through the Finns near impenetrable defense.
Then in a blink of the eye, Team USA's fortunes changed.
With 4:16 left in the game, the Americans cut the lead in half on a goal by Phil Kessel as be put away a Tim Gleason slap shot. Less than a minute later, Team USA got another goal when Drew Stafford brought them even.
11th hour magic by the Americans gave them new life as the game went into overtime.
This was also a repeat of what happened at the 2007 World Championships when these same teams met in the quarterfinal in Moscow and the game was tied at four after regulation. That game was ultimately decided in Finland's favor in a shootout.
One minute in Saku Koivu had a chance to win it as he intercepted a pass and bore in on goal but shot the puck high over the net.
"We knew we were one shot away from having a hero," said Esa Pirnes of his team's chances in overtime. "This was a game we knew we could win."
Zach Parise had Dustin Brown had two glorious chances six and a half minutes remaining before Lepisto's goal, assisted by Saku Koivu, at 3:59.
For Team USA, it was a good tournament to see their young players gain experience on the senior international circuit. So many of these names will be heard from again in World Championship competition as they gained much from playing in a game like tonight's quarterfinal.
"We have a lot of good young players and I think this will be very good for us in the future," said Parise.
Finland now moves into the semifinals for the third straight World Championship.