Finnish hockey fans sacrifice sleep to watch Cup finals


finiemi.jpgOne of the mini-stories of the playoffs, Olympics and recent seasons in general is the odd rise of the Finnish goalie. In the last decade or so, the league’s been treated to the play of Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom, Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff and most recently Boston’s Tuukka Rask and potential Stanley Cup champion in Chicago’s Antti Niemi.

Still, while the nation produces some great goalies and the occasional Koivu here and Selanne there, it’s a rare opportunity for the country to have a guaranteed Stanley Cup winner. The 2010 Stanley Cup finals mark the fifth all-time occasion in which a team with a Finn squared off against another team featuring a Finn. In this case, it’s Chicago’s Antti Niemi vs. Philadelphia’s Ville Leino and Kimmo Timonen.

So, even though most of the games start in that country at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m., Risto Pakarinen of shares the story of a few fans who are willing to go into work with some dark circles under their eyes to watch their countrymen go toe-to-toe for the Cup. Take the story of Aki Mäki-Kuhna of Helsinki.

All Cup Final games start at 3 a.m. in Finland, probably the worst possible time for the working man. But of course, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“I do time-shifting, so I record the game, and get up at, say, 4:30, then watch the first two periods, fast forwarding past the commercial breaks and the intermissions, and then watch the last period live,” Mäki-Kuhna said.

“It’s not like I get up in the middle of the night to watch every game during the regular season, but I try to catch the most interesting games, with the Finns. Or, Detroit. And Selänne. The Final is obviously great, with Finns on both teams,” said Mäki-Kuhna, who mentioned that his brother has seen more than 100 NHL games this season.

The list of Finnish Cup winners is pretty small yet difficult to spell: Valtteri Filppula, Jari Kurri, Jere Lehtinen, Ville Nieminen, Reijo Ruotsalainen, Teemu Selanne and Esa Tikkanen. Here’s a rundown of the five times Finns played against other Finns in the Cup finals, from that same story.

1985: Edmonton Oilers (Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen) defeated Philadelphia Flyers (Ilkka Sinisalo)

1987: Edmonton Oilers (Kurri, Tikkanen, Reijo Ruotsalainen) defeated Philadelphia Flyers (Sinisalo)

1994: New York Rangers (Tikkanen) defeated Vancouver Canucks (Jyrki Lumme)

2008: Detroit Red Wings (Valtteri Filppula) defeated Pittsburgh Penguins (Jarkko Ruutu)

2010: Chicago Blackhawks (Antti Niemi) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (Ville Leino, Kimmo Timonen)

‘It’s absolutely not true’ — Lemieux denies report of ‘big falling out’ with Crosby

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 5:  Sidney Crosby #87 and Mario Lemieux #66 of the Pittsburgh Penguins share a few words during a break in action against the New Jersey Devils in their NHL opening night game at the Continental Airlines Arena on October 5, 2005 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Devils won 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Well, that didn’t take long.

Just hours after Matthew Barnaby went on the radio and said he’d heard that Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux had had a “big falling out,” Lemieux came out and denied it.

“It’s absolutely not true,” said Lemieux, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s silly.”

Today marked the second time in less than two weeks that the Penguins have been forced do some damage control.

Last week, the Penguins insisted that they weren’t actually “mad at each other,” as Evgeni Malkin had put it after a bad loss to New Jersey.

“He did not mean we are mad at each other,” said Crosby. “He meant we are frustrated.”

Matthew Barnaby has heard that Crosby and Lemieux had a ‘big falling out’

Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel

Every day there seems to be another “thing” about the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We say “thing,” because we’re not really sure how to categorize it. It’s never anything concrete. It’s smoke, without definitive proof of a fire.

But whether it’s Evgeni Malkin saying the Penguins are “mad at each other”…or Guy Lafleur wondering if Sidney Crosby should try and find a new team…or a prominent NHL reporter like Elliotte Friedman talking about the “very tense environment” in the organization…

The clear insinuation is that all is not well in Pittsburgh.

The latest “thing”?

Ex-Penguin Matthew Barnaby has “looked into it” and what’s he’s heard is that Crosby and co-owner Mario Lemieux have had a “big falling out.”

“Now whether that pushes them to move him at some point? Whether he wants to move? That I don’t know,” Barnaby said today on SiriusXM, via Puck Daddy.

Again, it’s all just scuttlebutt at this point. After Malkin’s “mad at each other” remark, the players insisted that that wasn’t true. Malkin said he didn’t mean it that way.

So choose for yourself what to believe.

But despite the winning record, unless this team starts playing the way it was designed to play — i.e. scoring a lot of goals, not the 26th-most in the NHL — don’t be surprised if you hear more “things.”

The Penguins host St. Louis tonight.

Goalie nods: Marquee matchup as Price faces Lundqvist at MSG

Henrik Lundqvist
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Two of the NHL’s premier netminders will do battle tonight in New York, when Carey Price and the Canadiens visit Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.

Price, who’s played a pair of games since missing extended time with a lower-body injury, has won both of his starts and is now 9-2-0 on the year with a 2.10 GAA and .933 save percentage.

Great numbers, but nothing compared to the King.

Lundqvist — probably this year’s Vezina front-runner, after Price won last season — is a sparking 12-3-2 with a 1.74 GAA and .946 save percentage, posting shutouts in two of his last six starts.

One of those shutouts came in his last outing, a 31-save blanking of the Preds on Monday.

Now… with all that hype, we should tap the brakes. The last time PHT previewed a “goalie duel” was when Lundqvist and St. Louis’ Jake Allen engaged in a battle of the NHL’s two highest save percentages.

The Blues and Rangers then combined for nine goals, with Allen getting the hook 15 minutes into the contest.


Carter Hutton appears ready to give Pekka Rinne a night off in Buffalo, while the Sabres are going with Linus Ullmark once again.

Ryan Miller takes on Devan Dubnyk as the Canucks play in Minnesota.

Anders Nilsson will keep Cam Talbot bolted to the pine when Edmonton faces the ‘Canes. Cam Ward looks likely to go for Carolina.

Michael Hutchinson, not Connor Hellebuyck, for the Jets in Washington. The Caps will start Braden Holtby.

— Another good matchup in Pittsburgh, as Jake Allen and the Blues take on Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins.

Sergei Bobrovsky goes for the Jackets tonight, while the Devils counter with Cory Schneider.

— In Brooklyn, Jaroslav Halak starts for the Islanders. The visiting Flyers will go with their No. 1, Steve Mason.

— Sounds like Jonas Gustavsson will go up against his former team when the Bruins take on the Red Wings in Detroit. He’ll square off against Petr Mrazek.

Mike Smith returns from a lower-body injury to get the nod for Arizona. Hard to say what the Ducks are going to do: Frederik Andersen has the flu, Anton Khudobin got yanked last night against Calgary, and John Gibson came on in relief for the win.

Craig Anderson for Ottawa tonight, Semyon Varlamov for Colorado.

Martin Jones, the NHL’s reigning first star of the week, is in for the Sharks against the visiting Blackhawks. Corey Crawford counters for Chicago.

Stars’ Lehtonen (upper body) day-to-day

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The collision that forced Kari Lehtonen from his relief appearance in last night’s loss to Ottawa could keep him off ice four a couple of days, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed.

Lehtonen, who entered the contest after Antti Niemi allowed three goals on nine shots, was injured just over a minute into the third period when d-man John Klingberg crashed into the Dallas net.

Ruff suggested a goalie would be recalled from AHL Texas in time for the Stars’ next game, which is on Friday against the Canucks.

While losing Lehtonen would hurt the Stars — he’s 9-1-0 this year with a .921 save percentage and 2.41 GAA — the club can fall back on Niemi who, despite the rough outing against the Sens, has been OK this year.

Niemi has a 8-4-1 record, though his GAA (.264) and save percentage (.907) leave something to be desired.