So good in beating the Russians in the quarterfinals, Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask is unable to start today’s Olympic semifinal versus rival Sweden, apparently due to illness (flu).
In his place will be Dallas Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen. The 30-year-old has only made one start here in Sochi, stopping 20 of 21 shots in a 6-1 win over Norway in the preliminaries.
The good news for Finland is that Lehtonen came into the Olympics playing well. In his last three games for the Stars, he stopped 72 of 76 shots for a .947 save percentage.
The worrisome part is that Lehtonen, unlike Rask, has not started a big game in quite some time, and he’s never started a game of this magnitude. In his lengthy NHL career, he’s only appeared in two playoff games, both losses, back in 2007 for the Atlanta Thrashers. That same year he was named the best goalie in the World Championship, where he helped Finland to a silver.
San Jose’s Antti Niemi will back up Lehtonen.
Damon Severson was a healthy scratch on Saturday.
It’s the last game he wants to miss this season.
“I had a good chat with a few people and just pretty much said, ‘I want to be in the next 80 games,’” Severson said, per The Record. “I sat out my game and that’s all I want to be out for for the year.”
Severson is one of the Devils’ most important young players. But this is also the 21-year-old defenseman’s sophomore season, and that’s when slumps can occur.
Hence, the early message he was sent by the coaching staff.
Severson is expected to be back in the lineup tonight when New Jersey hosts Nashville.
“He doesn’t have to be perfect,” coach John Hynes told reporters. “We’d just like to see him have a high compete level. We know he’s ready to go. We had a couple of good meetings with him. He’s in a good spot mentally. I know he’s ready to roll.”
Jake Virtanen, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, will make his NHL debut tonight when his Canucks meet the Kings in Los Angeles.
The 19-year-old winger was a healthy scratch for Vancouver’s first three games of the regular season. He had two goals and two assists in six preseason games.
“I can’t wait,” he told reporters. “My energy is high. I want to get a couple of hits on my first shift.”
Big and physical with goal-scoring ability, the consensus is that Virtanen will remain in the NHL and not be returned to junior after he’s played nine games. That consensus could always change based on his play, of course.
The Canucks — who won last night in Anaheim — did not have a full skate this morning, so it’s unclear who will come out of the lineup. The best guess is rookie Jared McCann, who’s been playing third-line center.
If McCann does come out, the Canucks could move Brandon Sutter to third-line center and Virtanen could take Sutter’s spot on the first line with the Sedin twins. Or, there could be more extensive line juggling.