Team Finland

Associated Press

Kakko scores late, Finland wins third WJC in past six years

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Revenge is sweet, especially when it’s shrouded in gold.

Just ask Finland, who sought out and tasted retribution’s sweet nectar in a thrilling 3-2 win against the United States in the gold medal game at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver on Saturday.

Kaapo Kakko, who will be high on the draft board in the upcoming the 2019 NHL Draft, scored with 1:26 left in the third period to break a 2-2 tie, giving the Finns their third WJC win in the past six years (fourth total) while simultaneously cementing the Scandinavian nation as the crème de la crème in hockey development over the past several years.

The U.S. seemed to have a limitless number of tools to beat any team put in front of them. If one well ran dry, they could tap into the next, or the one after that. No situation was too tough to handle. No deficit too big.

Coming into Saturday, all of those wells were overflowing. Their speed was too much for anyone not named Sweden to handle, and in the medal round, Sweden was nowhere to be found.

Their power play was tops, operating above 30 percent. Their penalty kill was nearly impenetrable, successful well over 90 percent of the time. And when all else failed, the Americans would just outskate you to death.

Finland knew.

They were beaten convincingly back on Dec. 31, when the Americans trounced them 4-1. What it meant for Finland at the time was simple and daunting: they’d have to through Canada on home soil — a place they had never failed to medal — if they wanted to win their third gold medal in their past six tournaments.

But it was in that game that Finland found their stride. They sent Canada crashing out of the tournament in a 2-1 overtime win. They carried that through to the semis, dispatching Switzerland 6-1 to set up their chance to right the wrong they endured as 2019 neared.

And they were well on their way to that in the third period on Saturday.

Finland opened the scoring in the second period when Jesse Ylonen fired home just after the midway mark of the game. That lead was doubled four minutes into the third period when Otto Latvala let loose to put Finland in the driver’s seat up 2-0.

But a collapse was about to happen.

The Americans reached the final by taking down the Czech Republic 3-1 in the quarters and then edging the Russians 2-1 in the semis.

They were nearly perfect throughout the tournament, only dropping an overtime decision to Sweden in the preliminary round.

They benefitted from ridiculous, undefendable speed, that deadly power play and a penalty kill that only allowed one goal all tournament.

So going down 2-0 wasn’t as daunting as it might seem, and the deficit didn’t last long.

Alexander Chmelevski pulled the U.S. to 2-1 just 61 seconds after Latvala’s insurance marker. With the momentum now swung violently in favor of the Americans, Josh Norris tied the game on a one-time 1:46 after Chmelevski gave the U.S. life, completing the hasty comeback.

The matchup between the two teams wasn’t exactly new. They had met 33 times beforehand, with Finland owning a 16-15-2 record. But they had never met in a gold medal final — somewhat surprising given that both teams are responsible for five of the past nine goal medals.

The U.S. just needed more of the same coming into the game if they were to be successful.

For the Finns, it was about neutering as many of the American’s threats as possible while capitalizing on the momentum they had created for themselves.

The Finns just seemed to want it more.

The U.S. had four power plays inside the first 30 minutes of the game, and five total in the game. That should have been a death sentence for Finland, but instead, the Americans struggled to find opportunities, and when they did, Finland’s best player on the night — goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen — shut the door.

The U.S. went 0-for-5.

Luukkonen was a beast throughout the tournament. The Buffalo Sabres second-round selection in 2017 entered the game with a .933 save percentage, and once again proved his worth in Saturday’s final, turning aside 26 shots.

Kakko, with his late game-winner, was named the player of the game.

The best goalie of the tournament was handed to Russia’s Pyotr Kochetkov, who had a .953 save percentage and a 1.45 goals against average with four wins, including one in the bronze medal game earlier on Saturday.

The best defenseman was Russia’s Alexander Romanov, who had one goal and seven assists in eight games, and the top forward was Team USA’s Ryan Poehling, who finished with five goals and three assists in eight games.

Poehling was also named the tournament’s most valuable player.

2019 WJC All-Star Team:

G: Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen, FIN

D: Alexander Romanov, RUS

D: Erik Brannstrom, SWE

F: Grigori Denisenko, RUS

F: Philipp Kurashev, SUI

F: Ryan Poehling, USA


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ovechkin, Malkin lead Russia past Finland 5-2 for gold at Worlds

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The year 2014 wasn’t all for naught for Russia.

Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin each scored to help Russia defeat Pekka Rinne and Finland 5-2 in the gold medal game of the 2014 IIHF World Championships in Belarus.

Ovechkin’s goal 7:34 into the second period tied the game 2-2 and Malkin’s 5-on-3 power play goal put Russia ahead for good 8:02 later. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 24 shots to earn the win for Russia. Rinne stopped 34 for Finland.

Have a look at Malkin’s eventual game-winning goal here:

The gold medal is Russia’s fourth in the past seven years at Worlds. While they haven’t won gold at the Olympics since 1992 (then as the Commonwealth of Independent States), they’ve dominated the annual tournament of late. The Russian team

Next year’s tournament heads to Prague and Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

Here are the full highlight’s from Russia’s win.

Online oddsmaker makes Canada 2/1 favorite to beat Sweden

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With just two days until the gold medal game between Canada and Sweden and only hours until the bronze medal game, that doesn’t leave much time for wondering what the odds are in each game.

Online oddsmaker Bovada.lv has come through and, for entertainment’s sake, they’ve got the North American teams looking good to win against their Scandinavian opponents.

Bovada lists Canada as a 2/1 favorite to win gold against Sweden. The odds on the Swedes winning are a bit longer at 33/20.

Both teams head into the game on Sunday (7 a.m. ET Sunday on NBC) undefeated and both teams are coming off one-goal wins against rivals. Team Canada defeated Team USA 1-0 while Sweden beat Finland 2-1.

In the bronze medal game, Bovada lists Team USA as a 19/10 favorite, virtually 2/1, to beat Finland. The Finns, meanwhile, are 8/5 to beat the United States. Those two face off Saturday (10 a.m. ET on NBCSN) for the third-place hardware.

If betting on a team isn’t your thing, the over/under on number of total goals scored in each games is 4.5. With how goaltending has been all tournament, good luck betting the over.

Datsyuk says Russians were fired up for Norway

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It seems Canada isn’t the only team that has to deal with dissatisfied fans even in the face of victory.

Russia’s 4-0 win against Norway on Tuesday helped move them into the quarterfinals and a pair of goals in the closing minutes helped pad the lead. One critique they faced was that they weren’t fired up to face a non-rival like Norway.

Russian captain Pavel Datsyuk doesn’t agree with that at all as Russia’s RSport shares.

“Everyone played well, everyone did their job,” said Datsyuk. “A very tough game. I don’t agree that we weren’t fired up for the Norwegians,” he added, but conceded: “It probably looked that way from the back-row seats.”

Take that, people sitting far away.

You’d have to almost forgive Russia if they were looking ahead to the next round against Finland. Norway performed the worst of the 12 teams during the preliminary round and didn’t look thrilling doing so.

As it was, Russia outshot Norway 31-22 and poured it on in the second period by a 14-6 margin. They may not be succeeding with flash and dash with superstars scoring all over the place, but with the goal to win gold, the Russians keep marching along whether they look fired up or not.

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.