Two years ago in Slovakia, Finland won its third World Championship gold medal following three consecutive tight-checking, low-scoring games. Following the team’s 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals, the Jukka-Jalonen-coached and Marko-Anttila-captained team is one-third the way there at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
“We didn't allow any goals. It helps a little bit,” said Jalonen, who is searching for his second-straight title. “Our goalie played well, our defence played well, we played well as a team. It was a great team effort, good penalty killing. I’m very proud of the guys. We have to score one more goal than our opponent, if it's one goal or five goals doesn’t matter.”
“It was a one-goal game and they scored the goal. We didn’t score,” Czech captain Jan Kovar summed up.
Jere Innala scored the game’s only goal at 32:55 with a grinding effort. Otherwise, Simon Hrubec and Jussi Olkinuara were perfect. The Czech Republic outshot Finland 28-24 in the game as Olkinuara, who earned a shutout in his only World Championship game in 2019, recorded his first of 2021.
“I try to be there and make the saves and help the team, but today I allowed one goal and that was enough for Finland.” a disappointed Hrubec said afterward.
“We played a really good game today,” Anton Lundell figured. “Jussi was very good in the net and our defence helped us very much. We scored only one goal but we played really well defending and had good goaltending.”
Libor Sulak got the game’s first good scoring chance after a horrible giveaway in the Finnish zone but Olkinuora made a big pad save. But if anyone thought that would be a sign that the Finns weren’t on their game defensively, they would soon be proven wrong.
Late in the period there was a confusing play around the Czech net on Finland’s only power play of the game when Lundell tried to find Pakarinen right in front. Trying to put on the brakes as he received the pass, Pakarinen ended up contacting Hrubec and the puck ended up in the net, although exactly when the puck crossed the goal line – before or after the contact with the goalie – was impossible to determine from the video evidence. After a lengthy review, the goal was eventually waved off and the game remained scoreless after 20 minutes.
Atte Ohtamaa had a great chance for Finland in the second minute of the first period, as his slapper from the point rang off the crossbar.
The Finns finally broke the silence just shy of the game’s 33-minute mark. Petri Kontiola moved the puck back to Pakarinen in the high slot, and his shot hit Hrubec’s glove and fell to the goalie’s side where Innala, despite being tied up, was able to sweep it in.
“I saw that Kontiola was in the corner with the puck,” Pakarinen described. “I just saw the shot there and Innala was on the rebound. Great goal by him.”
“There was a guy in front of the net and we were late getting there,” said Hrubec. “Then the guy just served a good shot and I was happy to make a save because it’s pretty tough, then it was just a rebound. It was a lucky goal, but it was enough.”
The Czechs got their only power play of the game in the last two minutes of the second period, which carried over into the first minute of the third. It happened when Pakarinen hit Kovar from behind into the end boards, earning the veteran Jokerit Helsinki winger a 2+10.
Seven minutes into the third period, Dominik Kubalik nearly engineered a Czech goal on a wraparound attempt, when his pass attempt to Kovar in front hit a stick and bounced dangerously in front of the net.
For the most part, however, the Czechs had a difficult time generating scoring chances in the third period as the Finns went into lockdown mode. The Czechs generated 11 shots in the final frame, but few of them were threatening until Hrubec was called to the bench for a sixth attacker inside three minutes.
“We knew that it would be a fight against the best defensive team, trapping a lot and sticking to the system,” said Czech coach Filip Pesan. “We wanted to be more active, getting pucks behind their D, which we could see at the beginning of the game. But then we slowed down a little bit and except for the last couple of minutes, we weren’t good enough to force them to make some mistakes or get some power plays.”
As Pesan said, his team played with more urgency the last few minutes and, with Kovar and Kubalik driving the offence, they came close. In the last 30 seconds, as the Finns tried to kill the remaining time by tying up the puck along the boards, the Czechs got one more chance when it came loose and Kubalik sent a dangerous shot on goal that Olkinuara got a glove on.
“We had a couple of scoring chances in the end and didn’t score,” said Kovar. “Now it’s over. It was a great group over here. We had a tough start and showed that we can play better but tonight we didn’t score the goals.”
With the win, Finland advances to the semi-finals despite scoring only 20 goals in eight games. Their opponent in the latter of the two games will be Germany, who the Finns beat 2-1 during the group stage. The Czechs finish seventh.
Pakarinen said about the Germans: “They’re a hard team. They play hard hockey. They play simple hockey. We just have to defend well and play better in the o-zone.”
“We played against Germany before and have to have a rest and tomorrow we can think about them and how to beat them,” said Jalonen, who might have then foreshadowed: “It will be tough – it could be a one-goal game again.”