Finland’s top line was shut down, but it didn’t matter. Mikko Rantanen and Kasperi Kapanen stepped up and led the team to a 2-1 win, and to the WJC final.
It was Finnish young guns versus Sweden’s solid defence, and it didn’t turned out to be similar fireworks of scoring as Finland’s game against Canada. But it was a thriller all the same, and in the end, Finns came out on top thanks to two second-period goal, 2-1.
Kasperi Kapanen and team captain Mikko Rantanen collected two assists each for Finland. Antti Kalapudas scored the game-winner. Kaapo Kähkönen made 21 saves for Finland.
“It was a close game, but I think we deserved to win,” Kapanen said.
“This was our best game in the tournament,” added Rantanen who had two points in the first five games of the tournament.
“Mikko [Rantanen] has been a big part of our team in the tournament, he’s a great leader, and it was nice to see him get rewarded for his work on the ice,” said Sebastian Aho.
Rasmus Asplund scored Sweden’s lone goal, Linus Söderström made 26 saves.
“It’s my other family in there [in the dressing room], and to let in two goals in this game is a failure,” Söderström said.
“We knew we needed a goal at the end, and everybody battled like dogs, but we couldn’t tie it. Power play was the key, they scored their first one right after their power play, and the other one was a power-play goal,” said Dmytro Timashov.
Any way you slice it, the Finland versus Sweden games always come down to one word: rivalry. The rivalry cuts through all aspects all life, not just hockey, but hockey is a great way to measure its intensity level. Even if the players on these teams didn’t feel the weight of a nation on their shoulders, they also knew each other well, having played against each other several times over the years.
Most people, including the players, expected the crowd to be even louder than in the previous games in the tournament, but with full sections filled with disappointed Canadians, the arena was quieter than one might have predicted, but as the Finns scored their goals, the atmosphere got more livid.
“It’s unbelievable that the arena is sold out on a Monday, when the puck drops at 4pm,” Kapanen said.
“I guess people figured out ways to get out of work,” he added with a chuckle.
Maybe the lack of wild Finland support helped the Swedes take control of the game early on in the game. Especially the line with Alex Nylander and Dmytro Timashov and Rasmus Asplund was a threat every time they stepped on the ice.
Halfway through the first period, Timashov picked up the puck in the Swedish zone, carried it full 60 metres deep into the Finnish zone. Finnish defenceman Joni Tuulola missed a footing and fell which opened an opportunity to Timashov to take a few strides towards the Finnish net, and find Asplund at the backdoor where he had an easy job to beat Kaapo Kähkönen in Finland’s goal and give Sweden the lead in the game at 10:17.
“I was trying to drive to the net, but when I then saw [Asplund] in front of the net, it was an easy decision to get him the puck,” Timashov said.
Early in the second period, Sweden got into some penalty trouble taking two minor penalties in the first nine minutes of the period. While the Finns feared top line with Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho, and Jesse Puljujärvi couldn’t convert their chances, just as Adrian Kempe got back onto the ice, Mikko Rantanen found Roope Hintz in front of Söderström, and he tied the game at 11:08 into the second period.
“Once again, we were down by a goal in the game, but rallied back and won it. I think that says everything about the character of this team,” said Finnish forward Sebastian Aho.
Two minutes later, Finland got another power-play opportunity. Again, the Swedish penalty kill could shut down Finland’s top unit, but tonight, the Finns got secondary scoring from other lines. Rantanen grabbed the puck behind Sweden’s goal, found Antti Kalapudas at the faceoff dot and he fired a low wrist shot that beat Söderström at the far post and the Swedes found themselves in an unfamiliar situation. It was the first time they were trailing in the tournament.
And they never recovered. Sweden couldn’t create a big push even late in the game. Also, Andreas Englund’s holding minor with three minutes remaining spoiled any plans that coach Rikard Grönborg may have had.
“The penalty kill drained our energy,” said Timashov.
Sweden will play for bronze medals, like last year, while Finnish fans can look forward to a World Junior Championship final tomorrow.
IHLC: With the win, Finland captures their 26th International Hockey Lineal Championship, their first since November’s Four Nations Cup, where they also defeated Sweden to end the tournament. That meeting, a 4-1 win in Hämeenlinna, marks the last meeting between these historic hockey rivals, and improves Finland’s record to 15-18-3 all-time over the title. Finland will now play for Gold on home ice against Russia, with the unification of the Gold and IHLC on the line.
10:17 – GOAL – Asplund (Timashov, Larsson)
17:07 – PEN – Kempe, holding
17:30 – PEN – Aho, slashing
23:57 – PEN – team, too many players
28:54 – PEN – Kempe, interference
31:08 – GOAL – Hintz (Rantanen, Kapanen)
32:37 – PEN – Karlsson, checking to the head minor + 10 min. misconduct
33:04 – PP GOAL – Kalapudas (Rantanen, Kapanen)
33:43 – PEN – Nättinen, roughing
57:07 – PEN – Englund, holding
60:00 – PEN – Juolevi, holding
W: Kähkönen (21-22)
L: Söderström (26-28)
SHOTS ON GOAL
9+12+7 = 28
12+7+3 = 22
Goaltenders: Kaapo Kähkönen, Veini Vehviläinen. Defence: Olli Juolevi, Miro Keskitalo, Niko Mikkola, Sami Niku, Vili Saarijärvi, Joni Tuulola. Forwards: Sebastian Aho (A), Kasper Björkqvist, Roope Hintz (A), Antti Kalapudas, Kasperi Kapanen, Patrik Laine, Juho Lammikko, Julius Nättinen, Jesse Puljujärvi, Mikko Rantanen (C), Sebastian Repo, Aleksi Saarela, Miska Siikonen.
Goaltenders: Felix Sandström, Linus Söderström. Defence: Gabriel Carlsson, Andreas Englund (C), Gustav Forsling, William Lagesson, Jacob Larsson, Marcus Pettersson. Forwards: Rasmus Asplund, Christoffer Ehn, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Carl Grundström, Axel Holmström (A), Anton Karlsson, Adrian Kempe, Oskar Lindblom, Jens Lööke, Alexander Nylander, Dmytro Timashov.