In a wild clash of Nordic foes, Sweden blew an early 3-0 lead against Finland but rallied for a 7-4 win. First in Group A, the Swedes earn a semi-final bye, while Finland heads to relegation play.The Swedes have set themselves up nicely to defend their 2012 world title, the first one they’d won in 31 years. They’re now just two wins away from repeating under coach Roger Rönnberg.
"Right now, we haven’t won anything," noted Swedish captain Filip Forsberg. "We’re just going to go out in the semis and hunt for the final spot. It’s no big deal to calm our guys down."
The highly touted Finns theoretically could have finished first in the group by defeating Sweden by three or more goals, or second (two goals). Instead, they failed to achieve their minimum goal of getting this game into overtime, which would have earned them the single point they needed to unseat Switzerland for third place and a quarter-final berth in Group B.
"We tried to have a good start, but we had the opposite," said Finland's Joel Armia. "It’s so hard to win the game when the other team is three goals ahead."
Instead, Switzerland moves on. In an interesting spectacle, the Swiss team gathered in one corner of Ufa’s Sports Palace, near the press tribune, dressed in toques and team jackets, cheering wildly for each Swedish goal.
Joel Lassinantti started in the Swedish cage but was later pulled for Niklas Lundström, the two going head-to-head with Finnish starter Joonas Korpisalo. Shots on goal favoured Sweden 42-38.
Viktor Arvidsson notched two goals and an assist for Sweden, and Alexander Wennberg potted a goal and a helper. Robert Hägg, Victor Rask, Filip Forsberg, and Emil Molin also scored. Christian Djoos earned a pair of assists.
Joel Armia scored twice for the Finns and Rasmus Ristolainen and Ville Järveläinen had singles. Aleksander Barkov added two assists.
It’ll be the seventh straight year without a medal for Finland at this tournament. The last one was bronze in Vancouver in 2006.
This was a rough contest, played at a high tempo with plenty of post-whistle scrums.
"It’s always like that when we play against Finland," said Wennberg. "It’s a big thing for Sweden. It’s fun to play in these games."
The Swedes grabbed a 1-0 lead at 6:16 when Djoos stepped in from the right point and pounded a high shot that Wennberg deflected past Korpisalo..
Sweden went up 2-0 at 6:59 on a play much like the first goal. After a Swedish faceoff win, Robert Hagg came off the blue line and whipped a shot home on the glove side.
Rask made it 3-0 Sweden at 13:42, corralling a rebound in the slot and firing it past Korpisalo’s blocker.
"The first 20 minutes were the best we’ve played in this tournament so far," said Rönnberg. "Maybe the level we have to play on if we should survive the semis."
The Finns called a timeout to regroup, and it paid off. On the power play, Armia charged out of the corner with authority and zapped one under the crossbar to make it 3-1 at 16:17.
At 1:26 of the second period, Ristolainen brought his team back within one when he found a long rebound and fired it past Lassinantti.
The Finns began pressing furiously and got a two-man advantage. Lassinantti made two superb stops in a row on Olli Määttä and Miikka Salomäki. The latter stop, which involved a wide-open net and a miraculous stick move, was video-reviewed.
Still, Armia tied the game seconds later at 3:55 with a vicious one-timer that got inside Lassinantti’s right post. The Swedes promptly reacted by pulling Lassinantti in favour of Niklas Lundström.
"I felt we had to do something to change the momentum in the game," said Rönnberg. "I had Niklas’s eyes toward me all the time, and he was really looking to me, because he wanted to be in there. And he was ready for it. We had talked about it before the game, that this might happen."
Ristolainen hurt his team’s momentum when he was nabbed for checking to the head and headed to the penalty box with a two-minute minor and 10-minute misconduct.
Early in the Swedish power play, Sebastian Collberg thought he had scored and the Swedish bench erupted. However, the play was reviewed mid-way through the two-minute minor and was quickly ruled no goal.
The Swedes finally regained their one-goal edge on a broken play with 3:58 left in the middle frame. Tom Nilsson couldn’t get his shot through traffic, but Arvidsson picked up the puck in the high slot and got it past Korpisalo.
With Markus Hannikainen off for interference, the Swedes went up 5-3 just 45 seconds later. With bodies aplenty clogging Korpisalo’s view, Forsberg’s shot barely squeaked through his pads and over the goal line.
In the third period, the Finns had a chance to make it a one-goal game with Jacob de la Rose serving two-plus-10 for checking to the head, but they couldn’t capitalize.
With 9:20 left, Ville Järveläinen made it 5-4, circling into the slot and beating Lundström through traffic. Finland had life again.
But the Finns squandered their late momentum when an Armia tripping penalty with just over three minutes left cancelled out a power play chance.
Emil Molin’s rocket over Korpisalo’s glove with 1:22 made it 6-4 and sealed the deal. The Finns pulled their goalie in desperation, but that only opened the door for Arvidsson to add the 7-4 empty-netter with 59 seconds remaining.
It’s a disappointing outcome for the Finns, who will finish lower than sixth place for the first time since 2009 (seventh). They seemed to lose some of their mojo after Miro Aaltonen’s tournament-ending ankle injury in the opening 5-1 win over Latvia. They lost 3-1 to a lower-rated Czech side and then had to rally for a 5-4 overtime win versus Switzerland, a team they were expected to beat in regulation.
"I am so depressed and disappointed," said Finnish coach Harri Rindell. "This is a new experience, not such a funny one. An awful one. But you need to go through these things too and look forward. I am so sad just for the moment. Because we were so close, so close in many games."
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)