HELSINKI – Three first period goals were enough for the Czechs to beat Finland 3-2, and win IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship bronze.
Finland outshot the Czechs 14-1 in the last period but the Czech defence, led by goaltender Jakub Stepanek, weathered the storm. Stepanek made 34 saves in the game, Davod Krejci got the game winning goal for the Czechs.
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"It feels pretty good. The loss against Slovakia yesterday hurt. We let the final slip away, but that’s how it goes. At this tournament, it comes down to one game, and it didn’t work for us yesterday. We regrouped pretty well last night and today, and the bronze medal feels pretty good right now," Krejci said.
"We wanted to show our fans all we had. We wanted to finish in a good way. We're proud to be members of the team, but that's sports. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose," said Finnish national team captain Mikko Koivu.
The coaches had taken different approaches to the bronze medal game, played less than 24 hours after the Czech Republic’s semi-final against Slovakia. Alois Hadamczik decided to go with goaltender Jakub Stepanek while Jukka Jalonen had given Petri Vehanen a chance to get back in the saddle, after a disappointing semi-final.
Fittingly for a matinee game, the game flowed from end to end, with both teams giving up - and creating - chances, including wide open chance for Finland’s Jarkko Immonen in front of the net, and a breakaway for Czech Republic’s Petr Tenkrat, but the first one to capitalize on those were the the Czechs.
Petr Prucha redirected Lukas Krajicek’s slap shot from the blueline, the puck hit his own leg, and got deflected into the Finnish net to give the Czechs the lead in the game at 12:17.
"We got a good start and we scored a few quick goals. After that, we just tried to play defence and wait for them in the neutral zone. They almost had to dump every puck. I think we played very well and our goalie played one of his best games. It was a big thing for us," said Michal Frolik.
Four and a half minutes later, Mika Pyörälä scored his first of the tournament, when he went around Krajicek and fired a wrist shot from the left faceoff dot that went through Stepanek's five-hole.
The Czechs struck back in the next shift. Jiri Novotny went around the Finnish net, going for a wraparound, the puck hit Vehanen’s chest protector and in to give the Czechs a 2-1 lead at 17:22 into the period.
And they weren’t done. With 53.8 seconds remaining, David Krejci and Ales Hemsky sent the puck back and forth like on a string, confusing the Finnish defence. Vehanen stretched out to make a save, but Hemsky sent the puck back to Krejci, who had an easy task to snap the puck into a practically empty net.
"The coach put us back with Ales Hemsky on a line and we like to play with the puck. We kind of did a little give-and-go, and it was a pretty easy tap-in for me," Krejci said.
The middle frame was scoreless. The Czechs outshot Finland 12-10, but most of their shots came from the outside, and Vehanen had little trouble making the saves. Stepanek at the other end of the rink was just as solid.
Jakub Nakladal's cross-checking minor halfway through the third period gave Finland their chance to get back into the game. The penalty was just 22 seconds old when Jussi Jokinen took a pass from Mikko Mäenpää on the Czech blueline, snuck between the Czech defence and wired the puck right under the crossbar to make it 3-2, at 9:00.
A minute later, Petr Nedved took a slashing penalty, but the Czechs managed to kill it, and managed to keep the Finns off the score sheet the rest of the way.
"It’s pretty awesome. You want to finish strong in the season, and this was the last game. We tried to win the game, and it always feels better when you win the last game of the season. We did that. It feels great," said Frolik.
This bronze medal game was a matchup between two strong bronze medal game teams: Finland had lost only one of its four bronze medal games (in 2002), the Czechs just two of their six (in 1995 and 2003).
Mikko Koivu's incredible 11-tournament long medal streak got snapped when the hosts finished fourth, tying their best finish at a home tournament. In 1974, the hosts finished fourth, but slipped to fifth both in 1982, 1991, 1997, and 2003. In 1965, the team finished seventh.