Germany put up a mighty challenge, but the champion still reigns for another day as Finland built up a 2-0 first-period lead and held on to win an emotional semi-final game 2-1.
“That was a defensive battle today and we scored when we got the chances, so it was a good win,” said Finnish defenceman Jere Sallinen, one of seven members of the current Finnish team that won gold back in 2019 in Slovakia.
“Right now it’s disappointing because I think we played a really good game and almost outplayed the Finns through the whole game,” said German captain Moritz Muller, his team having outshot Finland 28-17.
“We did a lot of things that on another night would probably end up in a victory but that wasn’t the case today,” agreed German head coach Tomi Soderholm. “Finland was better by one goal.”
The result sets up a rematch of the 2019 final between Finland and Canada, while Germany will regroup and go for its first World Championship medal since 1953 against the USA.
The Germans started the game exactly how they wanted, pressuring the Finns and looking for the all-important first goal. They nearly got it 3:30 on a dangerous rush when Matthias Plachta crossed the blueline and dropped a pass to Moritz Seider, who let go a wrister with Plachta and Dominik Kahun both going to the net. The puck hit Jussi Olkinuora in the chest and bounced up, with Kahun knocking the puck out of the air and just wide of the post.
“Germany was very good in the first period and we were okay,” said Finnish captain Marko Anttila. “We defended well but we weren’t effective in capitalizing on our chances and that was the big thing today.”
Following their first power play of the game, Germany had outshot Finland 7-2 but then the Finns caught a break. Mathias Niederberger has played great in the German goal all tournament long, but the game’s opening goal is surely one he’d like to have back. Anton Lundell carried the puck into the zone and passed to Iiro Pakarinen who released a long shot that may have ever so slightly tipped off the stick of defenceman Jonas Muller and through though the goalie’s legs at 13:50.
The Germans didn’t quit and went back to the attack, trying to generate chances, but with just over a minute to go in the first period they turned over the puck along the boards in their own zone and Anttila fed a wide-open Hannes Bjorninen in the slot. Bjorninen had all the time in the world to wait for Niederberger to commit and then slid the puck through his legs.
“Marko took a good rebound puck and made a really good pass to me and I got open and I found the five-hole and it went in,” Bjorninen described. “The start wasn’t our best but we kept it going and I think we got better all the time.”
At that point, most people had to figure the game was over. Given Finland’s track record of playing with the lead in big games, a 2-0 lead with 40 minutes to go in a semi-final against a team still not considered one of the world’s heavyweights had to seem about as safe a bet as there could be.
“It’s a tough one to swallow for sure,” said defenceman Korbinian Holzer. “I thought we played an unbelievable game. We gave them two looks, they capitalized on them and got up 2-0.”
But Germany pressed on and got one back on the power play when Seider drew a penalty-killer near to him at the point and then feathered a pass across for a one-timer from Plachta, whose blast went through everybody and into the top corner over Olkinuora’s left shoulder at 31:03.
And they kept coming. Another power play came when Mikael Ruohomaa was called for high-sticking in the attacking zone a couple minutes later. There were chances but no finish, and the Germans used the momentum to keep the game played at a high pace.
The final moments of the second period were back and forth, with Marcus Eisenschmid getting a chance at one end and then Arttu Ruotsalainen being denied on a breakaway by Niederberger in the dying seconds.
The Finns had a chance to wide their lead on a third-period power play but failed to capitalize, but it took two minutes off the clock and as the third period wore on, time was becoming a factor for Germany. Finland was doing a good job of minimizing the chances against, but with just over five minutes to play, Marcel Noebels nearly engineered the tying goal after forcing a turnover down low, but was denied by Olkinuara at point-blank.
With 1:48 to play, Toni Soderholm called his timeout and pulled Niederberger for a sixth attacker. The Germans controlled the puck in the Finnish zone and put on good pressure and almost did it, with the puck bouncing through Eisenschmid’s legs at the side of the net.
“They came at us really hard in the third period but Jussi was really good in the net,” Bjorninen said about his goaltender. We trust Jussi and he made a couple of really good saves.”
“They’re really strong defensively, everyone knows that but we gave it everything we had,” said Holzer. “We got a goal back on the power play, we had all the momentum we had a couple of good kills, we created a lot of chances, had good chances to tie the game.”A pair of penalties were called with 16.8 seconds to play against Eisenschmid for tripping and Atte Ohtamaa for embellishment, and that seemed to stall the momentum. Time ran out on the Germans, who still have a shot at a medal. And of course, the Finns will try to keep their crown. Like the semi-finals, both medal games will be rematches from Group B play.
“It will again be a difficult game as in the preliminary round and as today against Finland,” said German captain Muller. “Same as today, we’ll again give everything to win a medal.”
“It’s the last battle of this tournament and it’s gonna be a tough game on our bodies and mentally too, so we’ve gotta be ready,” said Sallinen. “They’re going to come to play so we’re going to have to defend hard.”