BERNE – Buoyed by three goals in the second period, the United States skated to a tight 3-2 win over Finland to advance to the semi-finals for the first time since 2004. They’ll play Russia on May 8 at 16:15 local time.
The last time the Americans beat Finland at an IIHF event was at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake, a skein of eight games (seven wins and a tie for Finland). During that time the teams have met in the quarterfinals in 2008, 2007, and 2004, the Finns winning each time.
"We're excited we won the game," American goalie Robert Esche said. "Finland was a great team the whole tournament. I think this was the best game I played so far," he admitted, referring to the 49 shots he faced which earned him player of the game honours.
Tonight, the Americans were the faster team and moved the puck more effectively and with greater confidence.
"I dont think we played our game," admitted Jarkko Ruutu. "I think we were a little nervous. They got a couple of quick goals in the second period, and we couldn't really answer."
Although the first period was scoreless, it was not without drama and excitement. Both sides had excellent scoring chances, notably Mikko Lehtonen and Colin Wilson. In the case of Finnish Lehtonen, the defenceman ripped a shot off the crossbar from the point on a power play.
In Wilson’s case, he took a great pass to the back side of the net and almost stuffed the puck in, but Pekka Rinne made a fine pad save. Robert Esche, who hasn’t been the top goalie in the tournament by any means, nonetheless had an excellent period and looked ready for a big game.
The Finns had the only three power plays of the period and outshot the Americans 20-7. The last of those man advantage situations carried over to the second period, and that is how the Finns opened the scoring. Antti Miettinen tried to stuff the puck in the stick side of Esche’s goal, and although the goalie made the save, the puck popped free to the other side where Niko Kapanen calmly smacked it in to send the pro-Finnish crowd into a frenzy.
That frenzy subsided midway through the period on a United States five-on-three when Dustin Brown finished off a great three-way passing play with Ryan Suter and Ron Hainsey to tie the score. His one-timer beat Rinne who couldn’t get from post to post quickly enough.
Less than three minutes later, the Finns were caught deep in the American end and the U.S. broke out on a four-on-one. T.J. Oshie finished the rush in similar fashion to Brown, one-timing a pass to Rinne’s stick side to make it 2-1 U.S.
If the Finns weren’t in enough of a state of shock, the third American goal was truly a stunner. The Americans came up ice on a routine three-on-three, but a pass hit a Finnish defenceman in front and ended up on the stick of Suter, who had the open side of the net. Rinne had no chance.
"Our transition was good, and our second and third goals were the result of us beating them up ice," Brown noted.
The Finns got a much needed shot of confidence off a harmless-looking rush of their own late in the period. Immonen took a simple wrist shot that Esche couldn’t handle and Hannes Hyvönen banged home the rebound at 17:50 to get to within a goal before the second intermission.
The third period was tense, but it was the Finns who looked nervous while the Americans skated with confidence, refusing to lay back and sit on the lead.
"Esche was great for us in the third period," Brown said. "He made some big saves for us in the third period." Indeed, Esche robbed Niklas Hagman with a great glove grab midway through the period that had the Finn looking to the rafters in disbelief.
"It's going to be exciting to play against the Russians," Esche said. "They're an unbelievable team and you just hope you can stay in there as long as possible. I like our coaching staff. It's the best we've ever had, top to bottom."