Finland may enter the 2014 Winter Olympics with some questions surrounding its forward depth, but the team’s goaltending is rock solid.
The Finns have arguably the best depth in the tournament with Boston’s Tuukka Rask, San Jose’s Antti Niemi and Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen. It’s believed Rask will eventually emerge the starter, though there could be an early audition among the three.
“I don’t know,” Rask told CBS Boston about how the situation will play out. “We have three No. 1 goalies. We each get a game or something.”
Fans may wonder if goaltending can be the be-all, end-all in the Olympics. Often times it’s absolutely true, something Finland can attest to — at the 2006 Games in Turin, the Finns made it to the gold medal game against Sweden thanks to ex-Flyers and Bolts goalie Antero Niittymaki.
Niittymaki was the tourney MVP and one Nicklas Lidstrom goal away from earning Finland a gold medal. (Further to Finland’s goalie depth, consider this Niittymaki only started in Turin after Lehtonen and Miikka Kiprusoff dropped out.)
History shows goaltending can win it all. Dominik Hasek backstopped the Czech Republic to gold in 1998 after allowing just six goals through the tournament while posting wins against the United States, Canada, and Russia in the elimination rounds.
Clearly, goaltending isn’t an issue for Finland. Goalscoring could be, though.
The Finns have lost the services of Mikko Koivu (35 points in 44 games) and Valtteri Filppula (41 in 56) to ankle injuries. KHL centers Jarkko Immonen and Samri Salminen will take their spots, but that still puts pressure on Olli Jokinen, Aleksander Barkov and Mikael Granlund to provide strength down the middle.
On the wings, Teemu Selanne is the venerable leader playing in his sixth Olympic Games. Lauri Korpikoski and Tuomo Ruutu make for solid two-way forwards, but Finland is a team built on working together, not as individual parts. Team Finland assistant GM Jarmo Kekalainen says he expects the team to pester and annoy opponents on the way to victory.
The truth here, however, is the Finns look, on paper, to be thin at forward and defense. That’ll put the pressure on Rask and his fellow goalies to play at their best.
Rask’s success in his short career in the NHL has shown he can handle the load, but his international experience is limited. He last represented Finland at the World Junior Championships in 2007, and has yet to play in a World Championship.
You could argue going deep in the NHL playoffs makes for a strong enough resume and you’d probably be right. But every great goalie needs to have goals to support him — and that could by the Finns’ biggest worry.