Teemu Selanne

Dream dashed: Russia’s Olympic tournament over with loss to Finland

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Just prior to the start of the Olympic tournament, Russia’s Alex Ovechkin said he had a “dream” of winning a gold medal on home soil.

On Wednesday, that dream died.

Finland beat Russia 3-1 in front of a partisan Russian crowd at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, stifling the host country for most of the game while setting off a national nightmare in the process.

Russia came into this tournament with huge hopes riding on hockey gold. Ovechkin joked a gold medal would “only cost $50-billion” — well, we think he was joking — and his teammates also acknowledged the pressure to win it all. Yet their tournament will end with a quarterfinal loss, and Finland deserves full credit for ending it.

Juhamatti Aaltonen, Teemu Selanne and Mikael Granlund all scored for Finland, with the three goals coming unanswered after Ilya Kovalchuk opened the scoring for the Russians midway through the first period. Granlund, 21, has stepped up for the Finns after injuries kept veteran forwards Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula from participating in the Olympics, and now has a team-high five points.

VIDEO: Highlights from Finland’s 3-1 win

If today’s game showed one thing, though, it’s the importance of quality goaltending in a single elimination tournament. Tuukka Rask was absolutely brilliant for the Finns, stopping 37 of 38 shots. Russia, meanwhile, got an uneven start from Semyon Varlamov — chased after allowing three goals — and was forced to insert Sergei Bobrovsky early in the second period.

The Russian goaltending situation will likely come under fire. Head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov went back and forth between Varlamov and Bobrovsky all tournament long; conversely, Finland’s started Rask in three of its four games, including the last two against Canada and Russia.

This wasn’t just about goaltending, however. Finland played a smart, efficient game and outworked the Russians on a number of occasions. At no time was that more evident than on Selanne’s game-winning goal; Granlund chased down and stripped Slava Voynov for a loose puck before centering to Selanne, who broke his own record (set five days ago) as the oldest goalscorer in Olympic history.

As such, the Finns will now face Sweden in the semifinal for the chance to advance to Sunday’s gold medal game.

The Russians, meanwhile, will face a number of questions.

Selanne on loss to Canada: ‘We realized we can beat these guys’

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It may not have been a thrilling game to watch, but Canada’s 2-1 overtime win against Finland proved something to the Finns:

They can hang with the best in the world.

Finland captain Teemu Selanne told Olympic News Service that while a loss stinks, he knows they’ve got what it takes to win.

“We realized we can beat these guys,” said Selanne. “Obviously it’s a bad break at the end, but that’s hockey.”

The Finnish roster is a young one, but Selanne understands that hard-fought games like that teach a lesson that can carry them deeper in the tournament.

“When my teammates realized we can compete against these guys, it was a totally different game,” said Selanne. “That was a good confidence boost for us, and we can beat anybody when we play our best. Even with all the injuries that we have. That’s what happens in hockey. Just believe and do your best.”

Finland is without Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula, and now Aleksander Barkov but that hasn’t slowed them down winning two out of three games in round-robin play and earning a bye into the quarterfinals. They’ll face the winner of Russia vs. Norway in that round.

Report: Barkov could miss 4-6 weeks with knee injury

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Florida Panthers and Team Finland forward Aleksander Barkov could be out a bit longer after the injury he suffered against Norway.

A Finnish site reports Barkov will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. Barkov battled a knee injury earlier this season that cost him four games.

George Richards of The Miami Herald suggests the Panthers could shut Barkov down for the year because there are eight weeks left in the season.

Barkov went into the Olympics holding down a lofty spot on a line with Mikael Granlund and Teemu Selanne. Playing with Selanne was something the 18-year-old Barkov was looking forward to doing.

While his Olympics were already shot, the blow it deals to the Panthers lineup is a tough one. Barkov had been playing on the top line in Florida and was showing he was worth the team taking him second overall in the 2013 NHL Draft.

Suomi setback: Finland loses Barkov (lower body) for Olympics

Finland suffered its third significant player loss on Saturday, as the team announced prized Florida rookie Aleksander Barkov would miss the remainder of the Olympic tournament with a lower-body injury.

Barkov, 18, suffered what appeared to be a knee injury during Friday’s 6-1 win over Norway, leaving during the third period while finishing with 15:03 TOI. He was 9-of-11 in the faceoff circle against the Norwegians and, in a tournament-opening 8-4 win over Austria, went 11-of-13 and finished with an assist.

It’s worth bringing up his faceoff and assist totals because, prior to the games, Finland lost two of its best centers to injury — Valtteri Filppula and Mikko Koivu. Both suffered ankle injuries prior to the Games, and their absences gave Barkov the opportunity to play on a line with his childhood idol, Teemu Selanne.

Barkov, Selanne and Mikael Granlund had served as Finland’s de facto No. 1 line thus far.

It’ll be interesting to see what the long-term ramifications of this injury are. Barkov’s had a very solid freshman campaign for the Panthers, sitting fifth on the team in points (24) while averaging over 17 minutes per game. But he’d already missed four games this year with a knee injury — it’s unclear if that’s related to his current issue — and it sounds as though the Florida organization isn’t happy about this latest development:

 

Finns continue offensive onslaught, rout Norway 6-1

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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.

Teemu Selanne got the game started on a positive note for Finland by scoring just 5:46 minutes into the contest. In doing so, he became the oldest player to ever find the back of the net in an Olympic game.

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.