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Saros' goaltending leads Finland past Sweden

Friday, 08.08.2014 / 7:59 PM

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor / World Junior evaluation camps

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Saros' goaltending leads Finland past Sweden

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Even while coaching in Russia for the past three seasons, Finland national junior coach Hannu Jortikka knew exactly what kind of player he has in goaltender Juuse Saros.

Saros, a Nashville Predators prospect who helped backstop Finland to the gold medal at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, was outstanding in stopping 24 of 26 shots in Finland's 4-2 defeat of Sweden on Friday.

Janne Puhakka had a goal and an assist and Julius Vahatalo, Sami Niku and Aleski Mustonen had goals, but it was Saros who kept things under control in the Finnish end.

"Of course our goalie was good again," Jortikka said. "Saros is a good goalie. ... They told me that when Finland won the [WJC] last season in Malmo, Sweden he was unbelievable against Sweden."

Saros is the latest in a long line of outstanding Finnish goaltenders, but unlike Miikka Kiprusoff, Pekka Rinne or Kari Lehtonen, all of whom stand 6-foot-1 or taller, Saros is 5-10 and 178 pounds.

"You have to be special to be smaller and he's a special player," NHL Network analyst and former NHL goaltender Jamie McLennan told NHL.com. "He's so agile, he's aggressive, he's got a good glove hand, handles the puck; all the details of his game are very strong. But the anticipation is there. ... Reading the play, a lot of times goaltenders have the ability to read plays coming at them and not only foreshadow but anticipate where their options are going. He's very good."

Saros said he's also helped by his quickness in the crease. At his size he knows he has to come out and challenge shooters.

"When I see the chance, when I can challenge, I'll make it because I'm not so big," he said. "But if there's many guys in the offensive zone I don't run to the puck, that kind of stuff, don't play myself out. But I try to keep god positioning and move fast. That's helping me."

What also helped him was the physical play in the game Friday. Both goaltenders were under constant pressure from opposing forwards and there were a combined 40 penalty minutes. But Saros said he likes the rough stuff.

"You realize there's a game going on when that happens," he said. "I don't think I'm any less strong than [bigger] guys. I think I can handle it good. I like it. It gets you into the game."

Finland got into the game 7:17 in when Vahatalo lifted a loose puck in the crease over Sweden goaltender Fredrik Bergvik (San Jose Sharks), but Sweden tied the game on a goal by Lawrence Pilut at 16:00.

Niku, a defenseman considered one of the better 2015 NHL Draft prospects playing in Europe, put Finland ahead 2-1 at 12:50 of the second when his blast from the point went off Bergvik's glove and into the net.

Sweden's Sebastian Aho scored from the left side with 56.7 seconds left to tie the game, but Mustonen answered when he fought off a slash and scored off the rush with 16.9 seconds left for a 3-2 lead after two periods.

Niko Ojamaki closed the scoring with a goal with 2:02 remaining in regulation.

Saros had to make one final outstanding save, kicking out his pad to stop Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles Kings) open in the slot with 1:20 left.

"I don't think I need to say anything for Juuso," Finland forward Kasperi Kapanen (Pittsburgh Penguins) said. "I think he's the best goalie I've very played against. ... I never score on him. It's great to have that guy on your team."

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.

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