Finland and Russia both knew a win wouldn't come easy.
Both teams came into the match-up with strong goaltending and plenty of firepower on offense, and it would be the team that solved the goaltender that would emerge victorious. Russia opened the scoring with a power play goal by Ilya Kovalchuk--something they had previously done just twice on more than a dozen opportunities in the tournament. However, the home crowd was quickly silenced as Finland's Juhamatti Aaltonen
answered Russia's goal with one of his own just minutes later, and Team Finland never looked back.
Finland's game-winning goal came from Teemu Selanne, who became the oldest men's ice hockey player to score a goal in the Olympic Games and the insurance goal that made it 3-1 came from Mikael Granlund, securing a trip to the semifinals.
Every team knew the tenacity and skill of Finland's goaltending tandem, and today's game was no exception. Tuukka Rask stood on his head and stopped 37 of the 38 shots he faced for a 0.974 save percentage, while at the end of the ice, Russia's Semyon Varlamov allowed three goals on 15 shots in the game's first 27 minutes, which would prove to be the difference in the game. Blue Jacket Sergei Bobrovsky came in to relieve Varlamov shortly after the third goal, and stopped all seven shots but it wasn't enough to overcome the deficit as Finland defeated the home team 3-1.
For the Blue Jackets players representing Team Russia, it was the end of the road. Artem Anisimov, Nikita Nikitin, Fedor Tyutin and Sergei Bobrovsky will return to Columbus, without a medal to show for their journey to Sochi.
In the other early game, Henrik Lundqvist made 19 saves for Team Sweden in a rout of Slovenia by a score of 5-0. Carl Hagelin scored twice, as Daniel Sedin, Alexander Steen and Loui Eriksson scored the other three goals in a strong display of offense that should prove to make an interesting match against Finland's hot goaltending. Finland and Sweden will face off at 7 a.m. Friday on NBC Sports Network.
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In the later qualification games, the United States opened the scoring early on the Czech Republic, thanks to James van Riemsdyk. But, the Czechs responded with a goal just minutes later by Ales Hemsky. For several minutes after the tying goal, the Czechs dominated the United States, shutting down every pass and holding the puck in the offensive zone. The tides soon turned, though, as the United States applied the pressure with two additional goals in the first period by Dustin Brown and David Backes to make it a 3-1 USA lead after the first 20 minutes of play.
After Zach Parise made it a 4-1 game, the Czechs pulled goaltender Ondrej Pavelec in favor of Alexander Salak, who allowed one more goal as the United States handily defeaded the Czech Republic by a final score of 5-2.
Canada had quite the scare from an impressive Latvia team, as the two teams were tied for the majority of play. Canada broke the 1-1 deadlock with a power play goal by Shea Weber with just under seven minutes to play. Team Canada held off several great chances by Latvia in their attempt to re-tie the game in the final minutes, and was able to survive and advance to the semifinals.
The next round of games on Friday: Team USA plays Canada in a rematch of the 2010 Vancouver gold medal game, looking to avenge their loss four years ago. Viewers can watch the game on NBC Sports Network at noon, while Finland and Sweden will be broadcast at 7 a.m. that morning in a gold medal rematch of their own--the gold medal game from the 2006 Winter Olympics. Should be an intense day of games that will determine which teams will go after which medal.