Well, Finland’s dream of a double world championship are over, but at least the team is still playing for a medal. The game against Russia was encouraging. The team showed that it is capable of competing play-wise with a star studded Russian team. However, where I feel the Finnish team fell down on was on individual talent. If you have some one like Yevgeni Malkin snipe three goals at will you are in trouble.
Where I might’ve said some harsh things about the Penguins during the first round of the NHL playoffs, I have to admit that I have not seen a player as hungry as Malkin is right now. At the moment, his playing oozes the desire to win.
The reason why I am not overtly disappointed at the Finnish teams’ efforts is because the team went down with its boots on. The score 6-2, I feel, does not reflect the game on a playing level. Finland was the more dominant team across the first 30-35 minutes and I thought that until the 3-1 goal that the team had every chance to claw back. The body language of players said that they were there to fight to the end. However, it wasn’t until Malkin completed his hat-trick that the wheels fell off the bus. A 4-1 deficit is difficult to claw back from, not impossible, but difficult.
A couple of things that I was impressed with: Petri Kontiola’s game was probably the best he has ever played, or at least what I’ve seen him play. Same with Jesse Joensuu. I think as the tournament has gone on, he has elevated his game probably more than any other player on the Finnish team. It was his strong board play and relentless hustle that set up the Finnish first goal.
Petri Vehanen didn’t have one of his strongest games we’ve seen from him. Let’s not forget that Vehanen has been linked to a couple of NHL teams during the tournament (One of which is the Penguins). I don’t know whether the contract talk got his nerves going. Personally, I don’t see why Vehanen would go to the NHL. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great goalie when he is on top of his game, but he is what the hockey world would call a veteran. Then again, I’m always happy when a guy who has worked hard for his dream actually makes it, so from that point of view, it’d be great to see Vehanen make it.
Whilst we’re on the topic of goalies. Today’s game against Russia sets up an interesting dilemma: Ride Vehanen or go with the back-up, Karri Ramo. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Vehanen will play tomorrow. Jalonen is unlikely to throw a guy in the net who hasn’t played a minute in the tournament. Ramo is a capable goalie, but I think that Jalonen will stick to his guns and ride Vehanen rather than risk putting Ramo in goal. What he should’ve done though was to put Ramo in goal for the 3rd period in the Russia game. By that time the Finns would’ve had nothing to lose. It’s OK to say this in hindsight, but there you go.
One of the things that has been, shall we say, ridiculous has been the refereeing. Not only in the Finland vs Russia game, but across the entire tournament. There were a couple of calls the refs missed in the game and then called a few things that they did call, but wouldn’t have been worthy of penalties. Where Malkin went down I don’t think should’ve been a penalty. I’ve watched the play again and again, and Malkin goes down on his own as opposed to the Finnish player tripping him, as the refs interpreted.
Despite the loss tonight and the disappointment of it to the team, I’m sure that the Finns will come out and want to win the bronze on home soil. Though I think as a team, the guys want to go out with a win as it is officially the end of the season fro them all.
A quick word about the other finalist. I’m really happy for the Slovakian’s. Their last tournament was a disaster to say the least, but they have come through as the underdogs and I’m sure the guys will be relishing every moment. There’s no doubt that the Slovakian team has a 6th player with them on every shift in Pavol Demitra, whose jersey is hanging in the Slovakian changing room. For those who don’t know, Demitra was among the victims who perished in the Lokomotiv air disaster in September.