Cometh the hour, cometh the Manninen
by Andy Potts|23 MAY 2019
Finland's Jani Hakanpaa #58 and Harri Pesonen #82 celebrate after Sakari Manninen #65 scores the game winning overtime goal on Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist #30.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
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Finland ended Sweden's reign as World Champion in dramatic fashion after tying the game with 89 seconds left in regulation and finishing the job in overtime. A winning goal from Sakari Manninen sends the Finns to Bratislava to face Russia in the semi final on the back of a breathless 5-4 victory in this Baltic battle.

Manninen collected the puck in front of his own net as a Swedish attack broke down. Taking advantage of the extra space offered by the 3-on-3 overtime format he advanced up the ice, with Harri Pesonen making it impossible for lone defenceman John Klingberg to pick a target. The indecision allowed Manninen to unleash a wrister that flew over Henrik Lundqvist's shoulder to win the game 97 seconds into the extras.

For Juho Lammikko, the victory was down to desire: "We always believed," he said. "We had a lot of chances to put the puck in the net. You never quit until the final whistle. The game before us, you saw Canada score the tying goal with less than a second. It's a 60-minute game. We didn't let it bother us when they had the lead. Good things happen when you never give up."

These two Nordic neighbours came to Slovakia with very different rosters. While Sweden stacked up on NHL talent, Finland looked local and trusted in its rising stars, most notably Kaapo Kakko, picked out by many as a potential #1 draft pick this summer.

In the group phase, both teams produced as many questions as answers. Sweden was ruthless in dealing with the Group B outsiders, piling up the goals. But against the big-hitters, things were different. A 2-5 loss against the Czechs at the start was following by a 4-7 reverse against Russia in Tuesday’s last group stage encounter. The match-up with Switzerland was also tight, with Sweden edging the verdict by the odd goal in seven. Was this a team that could bully the outsiders but would back off from a fair fight?

Finland, meanwhile, arguably over-performed in a highly-competitive Group A. But after an adrenaline fuelled start brought victories over Canada and host nation Slovakia, plus a battling overtime loss to the USA, some of the sparkle evaporated. The minnows – Denmark, GB, France – were despatched, but not always in fine style. The last game, offering a chance to seal first place in the group, ended in a 2-4 loss against Germany and the hurt on Finnish faces was obvious. Did Jukka Jalonen’s team have the strength to endure the full World Championship campaign?

A breathless start gave little time to contemplate these questions further. Finland took the lead after just a minute when Niko Mikkola smashed home from the point after Pesonen battled for the puck in the corner and fed his defenceman. But Sweden tied the scores almost immediately, converting the first power play of the game. And it was a goal that highlighted how much William Nylander brings to the team. Coming off the boards, he found himself in what many players would consider a shooting position – and picked off a pass to the unmarked Klingberg, who had a wide-open net to aim for. The defenceman accepted the gift, Nylander moved to 18 points for the tournament, overtaking Nils Nilsson and Mats Ahlberg for the best ever return for a Swede at a World Championship.

The scoring could not stay at that explosive pace, but Sweden forged ahead at the end of the frame with a goal that was tough for Finland to take. Patric Hornqvist redirected an Oliver Ekman-Larsson point shot – a shot hard enough to rip the stick from his team-mate’s hands – but the puck was flying wide of the target until it hit Henri Jokiharju’s skate and flashed in off the inside of the post. Jokiharju was trying to shepherd Nylander away from the play but ended up inadvertently doing the forward’s job for him.

"It's weird that the lead went back and forth," said Jere Sallinen. "That usually doesn't happen with us. They have such a good team, which is why they scored four goals, but we felt we could do it as well. It was a big win for us."
Finland vs. Sweden (QF) - 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
Finland ended Sweden's reign as World Champion in dramatic fashion after tying the game at 58:31 and finishing the job in overtime. A winning goal from Sakari Manninen sends the Finns to the semi-finals.
FIN SWE 23 MAY 2019
Finland’s problems increased seconds into the middle frame when Elias Pettersson conjured a superb individual effort, turning Miika Koivisto inside out before wiring a shot over Kevin Lankinen’s shoulder. However, redemption was on its way. In a game full of a booming point shots, Petteri Lindbohm put Finland back in contention when his effort deflected off Klingberg’s leg and wrong-footed Henrik Lundqvist. Then, just before the half-hour mark, another howitzer, this time from Jani Hakanpaa, tied the game at 3-3. The goal owed much to the persistence of Manninen. The forward, recently signed by Salavat Yulayev Ufa of the KHL, forced a turnover on the Swedish blue line then went to retrieve the puck after his first pass was cut out. Pesonen’s leap across Lundqvist’s field of vision helped to take the goalie out of the game.

Now the Finns started playing their best hockey of the evening. Fluid passing around the Swedish zone called to mind some of the Gusev-Kucherov interchanges that have illuminated Russia’s play in this tournament. But when Sweden seemed to be caught in a hole, the Tre Kronor responded in emphatic style. Gustafsson slammed in a 149 km/h slap shot, Hornqvist screened Lankinen and the video review confirmed that the puck had bounced off the camera in the back of the net and back into play. Seconds before the end of the of the second frame, Sweden regained the lead.

Lindbohm, scorer of Finland's second goal, paid tribute to a strong Swedish performance - even if it ended in defeat. "You have to give credit to Sweden. They have a really good team," he said. "They're dangerous, but today we got a little lucky and scored more goals. Usually it goes the other way around."

From the Swedish camp, Anton Lander was one of the few to offer any words after the game: "They played really well. Congrats. They deserved to win. We came close, but they won. Good luck to them."

After seven goals in the first two periods, the third produced just one. Sweden regained its defensive focus; Finland, for all its efforts, could not break through. Kakko was denied by a great Lundqvist save, Oliwer Kaski advanced from defence to flash a shot that the goalie padded away. With two minutes left, the Finns took a time out. Lankinen went to the bench and Jalonen tried to plot a path to goal for his six skaters.

And the gamble paid off, despite a heart-stopping moment when Hornqvist shot wide of that empty net. Play went to the other end, Lundqvist blocked a Mikko Lehtonen shot and stopped Niko Ojamaki's attempt on the rebound. But the puck got caught up between Swedish skates and Marko Anttila picked an opportune moment to pounce for his first goal of the tournament, tying the game at 4-4 with 90 seconds left to play.

Manninen went on to win it for Finland and set Sallinen dreaming of a repeat of the Leijonat's last visit to Slovakia.

"Tonight it finally happened for us. We have a chance now to win gold, like we did last time we played here," he concluded.
Finland vs. Sweden (QF) - 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship