If Finland was going to get far in this tournament, the assumption was that it would be on the strength of its goaltending.
Now it appears the Finns might ride their offense.
Despite playing without the services of top centers Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula, The Finns powered their way to a 6-1 victory over Norway on Friday, just a day after their 8-4 win against Austria.
Pittsburgh phenom Olli Maata, 19, led the way for Finland with three points, while Phoenix’s Lauri Korpikoski scored two goals, including the eventual game-winner. Olli Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu also chipped in with a pair of points each.
As for the goaltending — Tuukka Rask was roughed up in the Austria contest (allowing four goals), which prompted Finland to go with Dallas Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen today. Lehtonen wasn’t challenged often, but was sharp when he needed to be, stopping 20 of 21 shots. Meanwhile, Norwegian netminder Lars Haugen was yanked after 20 minutes following a 35-save effort against Canada on Thursday.
As impressive as Finland’s blowout victories have been, they have to be taken with a grain of salt given that they’ve come against a pair of nations that weren’t expected to do much in this tournament. Finland’s first major test will come on Sunday, when it plays against Canada to determine who will win Group B.
Norway will play against Austria on Sunday. Both of those countries are searching for their first win and simultaneously fighting for better positioning in the qualification round.
The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.
They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.
The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.
Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.
The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.
The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.
Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style
It wasn’t pretty – especially if you’re disgusted by that Roman Polak hit – but the Toronto Maple Leafs keep generating big wins as a playoff return looks increasingly likely.
Toronto managed a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, passing the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division:
Maple Leafs: 83 points in 72 games
Bruins: 82 points in 73 games
This leaves the currently in-action New York Islanders four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card in the East.
The Maple Leafs aren’t just grabbing key points; they’re doing so against some strong opponents who’ve had plenty on the line, too. They beat a Metro contender in Columbus tonight, the Bruins on Monday, grabbed an OT point against Chicago on Saturday and handled the desperate Lightning last Thursday.
John Tortorella was left enraged after Roman Polak delivered a dangerous boarding hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand, and he probably wasn’t too pleased after the Columbus Blue Jackets failed to make Toronto pay for Polak’s misdeeds.
Polak received a game misconduct and boarding major for the hit, but the Blue Jackets failed to score on a lengthy power play. Tortorella played to script, as cameras caught him expressing his anger at the situation.