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Team USA Eliminated By Finland

by Staff Writer / Colorado Avalanche

Story By Lucas Aykroyd /

KHODYNKA -- In a gritty, intense quarter-final Thursday night in Moscow, Jere Lehtinen scored the lone goal in a penalty shootout to give Finland a 5-4 victory over a resilient young American squad that rallied from one-goal deficits four times before succumbing.

The Finns will now play Russia in Saturday's first semifinal. Canada and Sweden will meet in the second game.

After five Americans and four Finns had failed to score in the game-winning shots competition, Lehtinen zinged a shot under the crossbar that sent USA goalie John Grahame's water bottle flying. Thanks to that moment of brilliance from a 1995 World Champion, 1999 Stanley Cup champion, and former Selke Trophy winner, the USA's tournament came to an end.

"When I went out on the ice, I was thinking about what to do," said Lehtinen. "He was pretty deep in his goal. I wanted to shoot high, and I got a pretty good shot."

Tuomo Ruutu, Pekka Saravo, Jari Viuhkola, and Tomi Kallio scored for Finland in regulation time. Toby Petersen, Tyler Arnason, Lee Stempniak, and Andrew Hutchinson replied for the USA.

Avalanche center Paul Stastny was Team USA's second leading scorer at the tournament, notching four goals and four assists for eight points in seven games.Arnason, a teammate of Stastny with the Avalanche,recorded a goal and three assists while also playing all seven contests.St. Louis Blues foward Lee Stempniak led the Americans with 10 points.

"It was a nerve-wracking game," said Kallio. "We are really happy to go further. The Americans played well."

Finnish goalie Kari Lehtonen recorded 28 saves in regulation and 10 minutes of 4-on-4 overtime before performing flawlessly in the shootout. Grahame faced 35 Finnish shots on the night.

"Our team played with a lot of heart," said USA Head Coach Mike Sullivan. "They showed a lot of resilience. There was no quit in them."

"We have a good bunch of guys," Arnason added. "We played well as a team for pretty much the entire tournament."

With the back-and-forth scoring pattern and so much on the line, this was a definite contender for the title of most exciting game of Moscow 2007.

Heading into this game, there was some noteworthy recent elimination-round history for these two nations. In the 2001 semi-finals and 2002 quarter-finals, Finland ousted the USA by identical 3-1 scores. Both nations' last medals were bronze, Finland's in 2006 and the USA's in 2004.

Tuomo Ruutu opened the scoring for Finland with 2:57 left in the first when he grabbed a loose puck on the right side boards, stepped into the faceoff circle, and fired a wrist shot past Grahame's blocker side.

Just 48 seconds into the middle frame, the Americans drew even while shorthanded. Coming down left wing, Chad Larose hustled into the Finnish zone on a 2-on-1 and deftly sent a cross-ice pass to Toby Petersen for a one-timer from the faceoff circle that beat Lehtonen over the glove. The USA got another shorthanded 2-on-1 two minutes later, but this time Lehtonen had his glove ready and waiting for Parise.

At 4:33, the Finns showed they knew how to execute a 2-on-1 as well. Niko Kapanen picked up the puck in the neutral zone on a quick transition, came down the right side, and then fed Pekka Saravo, who got Grahame moving across and then slid the puck inside the far post for a 2-1 Finnish lead.

Just as a Finnish minor expired, Tyler Arnason capitalized on a beautiful three-way passing play in front of the net, tucking a backhand through Lehtonen's legs to make it 2-2 at 7:05.

Shortly after the midway mark, the Finns made it 3-2 after several defensive breakdowns in the American end. Grahame tried to shoot the puck around the boards and handed it away behind the net to Lehtinen, who attempted a wraparound at the goalie's left post that Grahame barely got back in time to save. But the Finns got the puck back for a Ville Peltonen shot after Grahame recovered, and Jari Viukhola put the rebound up under the crossbar.

At 14:08, the Americans tied it up yet again on a scramble down low for a rebound, as Backes lifted the loose puck across the crease to Lee Stempniak, who got control of it off his skate and tucked a backhand into the open side.

The Finns jumped into a 4-3 lead on the power play with 4:28 left in the second when Tomi Kallio lasered a high wrister just inside the post from below the faceoff circle.

"I got a great pass from Petteri Nummelin," said Kallio. "I like to shoot up high from that angle. It was a perfect position for me."

Would the pesky Americans be able to keep coming back in the third? The answer was yes. Erik Cole, who skated strongly all game long, drew a hooking minor on Jukka-Pekka Laamanen at 12:42. And with 5:40 left,Arnason made a brilliant cross-ice pass to Andrew Hutchinson, who wired a one-timer whose trajectory resembled Kallio's goal, making it a 4-4 tie.

The pace intensified in the dying minutes of regulation.Paul Stastny stole the puck during a sloppy Finnish line change and zoomed down the middle to knife a backhand off Lehtonen's pads. The Finns nearly capitalized on two occasions due to American turnovers in the defensive zone.

With less than two minutes to go, Petteri Nummelin tried to fire the winner on a nifty solo rush down right wing, but was flattened with a hip check in the corner and had to be helped off by the training staff. (However, he would recover in time for overtime.) Stempniak swooped in from the corner from one more good American chance in regulation, but couldn't get the puck through Lehtonen's feet. And it was off to sudden death.

The first great chance of the 4-on-4 session went to Parise, who rang a wrister off the outside of the post. In the fourth minute, Cole managed to cut around Saravo and get to the net, but couldn't direct the puck through Lehtonen, and the Finnish goalie was also sharp to stop an Alberts blast from the line with traffic in front a minute later.

"Tonight our goalie made some unbelievable saves and helped us win the game," said Mikko Koivu.

The Finns generated chances of their own, as Lehtinen nearly converted a three-way passing play in close on Grahame past the midway mark of OT. With just over a minute left, Tomi Kallio got free on the right side and fired a high shot that clipped Grahame in the mask.

With overtime having settled nothing, it was time for the shootout. Finland won the right to shoot first, and it unfolded as follows (according to the new IIHF game-winning shots procedure, in which three different shooters from each team take alternate shots until a decisive goal is scored--and if the game is still tied after three shots by each team, the GWS continues with a tie-break shootout by one player of each team, with the shooting order reversed):

Round 1: FIN, Peltonen - Grahame save. USA, Kessel - Lehtonen save.
Round 2: FIN, Nummelin - Grahame save. USA, Stempniak - Lehtonen save.
Round 3: FIN, Mikko Koivu - Grahame save. USA, Parise - Lehtonen save.
Round 4: USA, Parise - no attempt. FIN, Tuomo Ruutu - Grahame save.
Round 5: USA, Kessel - Lehtonen save. FIN, Lehtinen - scores.

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