HELSINKI – There’s no better way for a goalie to debut on the World Championship stage than with a shutout. Antti Raanta delivered the goods with 36 saves as host Finland beat Slovakia 2-0 for its first regulation victory of 2013.
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"Of course it was great to get a shutout," said Raanta. "But I just wanted the win, to get a good start for me and three points for the team."
Juhamatti Aaltonen tallied the winner, and Finnish scoring leader Petri Kontiola added a goal and an assist.
Raanta, who recently backstopped Ässät Pori to its first Finnish championship since 1978, outduelled Slovakia’s Rastislav Stana, who got his second start in as many games for the 2012 silver medalists.
"We did everything we were supposed to do, but their goalie stood on his head," said Slovakia's Milan Jurcina. "Sometimes that's how the puck bounces."
Finland, which recorded 23 shots on goal, remains unbeaten after downing Germany 4-3 in overtime in its opener on Friday.
"It was a step in the right direction," said Kontiola. "Two wins is a good start, even if we haven't played as well as we'd have liked to."
There’s a line in the Finnish anthem, “Maamme”, that includes the word “shore” – “ranta” in Finnish. Partisan fans stressed that word during the pre-game anthem as a tribute to their goalie, Raanta. If the 23-year-old Rauma native continues to excel as the tournament progresses, it might become a tradition.
The crowd was electric in the early going. Slovakia tested Raanta repeatedly as he showcased his quick butterfly style. First-period shots favoured the Slovaks 15-4.
Against the flow of the play, Finland drew first blood at 11:28 when Aaltonen charged to the net and tipped in an onrushing Sami Lepistö’s shot.
Both goalies had shining moments in the second period.
Stana made a brilliant reaction save near the halfway mark of the second period when Aaltonen’s centering pass on the rush nearly tipped in off defenceman Milan Jurcina’s skate.
At the other end, Peter Ölvecky raced to the net and batted a puck out of mid-air, but Raanta got it with his arm. Ölvecky looked skyward in disbelief.
With under four minutes left in the middle stanza, Lauri Korpikoski’s centering pass from the corner found Ville Viitaluoma all alone in front of Stana, but somehow the Slovak goalie blocked the quick attempt.
At the horn, tempers flared in the corner to Stana’s right after a late Michael Sersen hit on Jarno Koskiranta, and a scrum ensued with sticks and gloves on the ice. Roughing minors were dispensed and nothing further came of it.
At 2:09 of the third, Kontiola went to the net and converted his own rebound off the rush, putting it through Stana’s legs for a 2-0 lead.
The Slovaks pulled their goalie in the dying seconds but failed to spoil Raanta's shutout bid.
Finland has now defeated Slovakia in six straight World Championship meetings dating back to 2008.
The Finns take on France next on Monday, while Slovakia faces Germany that day.
"We have to regroup," said Jurcina. "This is a marathon."