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Once again, Finns ‘find a way’ to achieve Olympic success

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Since NHLers began Olympic participation in 1998, only one country has medaled three times.

It’s not Canada, it’s not the U.S., it’s not Sweden and it’s not Russia.

It’s Finland.

On Wednesday, the Finns made a push for a fourth, defeating Russia 3-1 to set up a semifinal date with arch rivals Sweden. In typical fashion, Finland beat the Russians with strengths exhibited in previous Olympics — strong goaltending, smart play and tireless work ethic.

“Even though no one ever picks us to win medals we always seem to find a way to get there,” Tuukka Rask said after the game, per Sportsnet.

VIDEO: Highlights from Finland’s 3-1 win

Rask has been phenomenal over the last two contests, reminiscent of the performance Antero Niittymakki put up at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, when he backstopped the Finns to silver and won tournament MVP. Rask stopped 37 of 38 Russian shots on Wednesday, this coming after he made 25 saves in a 2-1 OT loss to Canada in the final group game.

“We gave it everything,” said a dismayed Pavel Datsyuk. “We can’t score today.”

Rask’s been a major part of Finland’s success, though hardly the only part. Mikael Granlund, the 21-year-old Minnesota center, has played extremely well and leads the team with five points. His effort against Russia — setting up Teemu Selanne’s game-winning goal, then scoring the insurance marker — was impressive, even more so considering Granlund was forced into a larger role after injuries befell the likes of Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula and Aleksander Barkov.

Granlund’s shown the type of resiliency that extended across the Finnish team. To steal some football parlance, the “next man up” philosophy rang true with the players — Jarko Immonen, one of the replacements for Koivu and Filppula, played nearly 15 minutes against the Russians on Wednesday, winning 55 percent of his draws. Petri Kontiola, a 29-year-old KHLer, won eight of nine faceoffs, registered an assist and played over 17 minutes, finishing plus-2.

It’s the kind of mentality assistant GM Jarmo Kekalainen described prior to the Games getting underway.

“It’ll be all about team. That’s our strength and we love to be the underdog,” he explained. “We’re going to bite everybody’s ankles and not let go — that’s the only way we’re going to be successful.”

Despite that colorful explanation and its history of Olympic success, few picked Finland to medal in Sochi, and even fewer gave the Finns a shot after injuries hit.

No problem, according to Selanne.

“You know that nobody ever believed that we could win, but it doesn’t matter,” he said, per TSN 1050. The experts are wrong many times.”

Video: Blandisi scores great between-the-legs goal vs. Flyers

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What a story Joseph Blandisi‘s been for the New Jersey Devils this season.

The 21-year-old played in his first NHL game on Dec. 11 and has stayed with the Devils ever since.

It took him five games to pick up his first career point, but he’s done a whole lot more damage since then.

Blandisi came into Saturday’s action with 10 points in his last 12 games and he added to that against the Flyers.

He opened the scoring with this beautiful between-the-legs goal on goalie Michal Neuvirth (top of the page).

That’s Blandisi’s fourth goal of the season.

Some Twitter reaction to the goal:

Bruins’ Bergeron ruled out for Saturday’s game against Wild

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The Boston Bruins will be without center Patrice Bergeron in Saturday afternoon’s matinee against the Minnesota Wild.

It’s unclear how Bergeron suffered the undisclosed injury, but there’s reason to believe it occurred after he dropped the gloves with Jets forward Blake Wheeler (above).

He’s considered day-to-day at this point.

Losing him for an extended period of time would be devastating for Boston.

“You don’t like seeing your star players (fight), but you also understand that it’s an emotional game and that stuff happens and at one point a player says, ‘Enough is enough and I’m going to stand up for myself,’” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said after the game, as per the Boston Herald.

“From what I gathered there was a lot of slashes behind the legs behind the play and stuff like that. He took things upon himself. As much as you don’t like it, you can’t tell him he’s not allowed. He’s a big boy and he can certainly make some decisions on the ice. And it’s not the first time that he’s fought. But I like the fact that he doesn’t fight much.”

After this incident, there’s no doubt that the Bruins will tell Bergeron to keep his gloves on from now on.

Jets will take one more crack at re-signing Andrew Ladd

Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Ladd (16) and Blake Wheeler (26) celebrate Ladd's goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)
Associated Press
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Jets captain Andrew Ladd still doesn’t have a contract for next season and with the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaching, something’s gonna have to give.

According to TSN’s Gary Lawless, the Winnipeg Jets will make one last push to sign the forward before making him available on the trade market.

Ladd doesn’t want to leave and the team wants to keep him, but after Dustin Byfgulien got an extension earlier this month, there may not be enough money to go around.

At one point, the Jets reportedly made Ladd a six-year offer worth $6 million per year, which he obviously didn’t accept.

Can they top that? Time will tell.

Waiting to trade Ladd is probably the smartest decision.

Keeping the captain around would be great, but if the two sides can’t agree to a new contract, there’ll be no shortage of suitors for Ladd’s services.

Lawless mentions the Penguins, Panthers and Blackhawks as potential landing spots for the 30-year-old.

The Kings have also been mentioned as a potential destination for Ladd.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to make some crucial decisions over the next few weeks.

Flyers’ Neuvirth (lower body) will be between the pipes vs. the Devils on Saturday

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth (30) of the Czech Republic stops a shot from the Dallas Stars in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Michal Neuvirth will make his first start of the month in Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils.

The 27-year-old missed five games with a lower-body injury. He was activated off the injured list earlier this week and served as Steve Mason‘s backup in Thursday’s game against Buffalo.

Neuvirth has an 11-6-2 record with a 2.14 goals-against-average and a .933 save percentage in 2015-16.

He’s put up some solid numbers against the Devils in his career. Neuvirth has a 5-2-4 record with 2.03 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage in games against New Jersey.

Steve Mason, who’s coming off a 41-save performance in a win over Buffalo, hasn’t been as good against Saturday’s opponent.

Mason is 0-7-0 lifetime against the Devils.

Puck drop is at 1:00 p.m. ET.