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Finland beats Sweden in OT, takes WJC gold medal

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

It's not hard to see why they earned the nickname "pesky Finns."

In a jam-packed, roaring Malmo Arena, Finland seemingly had a mountain to climb against the host Swedes, who had not lost a game in this World Junior Hockey Championship. Not only had Sweden been rolling through the tournament, but they were doing so in an at-times dominant fashion, and the only thing separating them from the elusive home-soil gold medal was their bitter border rival.

And another historical note: Sunday's gold medal game was the first time that Sweden and Finland had ever faced off in a World Junior final.

With that being said, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that, in a tournament full of surprises, the Finns once again frustrated a good team and got them off their game. Just as they did against Canada in the semifinal, the Finns played a tight-checking game and didn't afford much room to the Swedes, who pushed hard in the third period and especially so after tying the game.

The end result: a 3-2 overtime win for Finland on a beautiful goal by Buffalo Sabres prospect Rasmus Ristolainen, who had just come off the bench on a line change. He made a quick move to the front of the net, went to his backhand and slid the puck under Blue Jackets goalie prospect Oscar Dansk to win gold for Finland.

A year after finishing the 2013 World Junior in seventh place and leaving Ufa, Russia in a fight to stay up in the main division, Finland put together one of its best performances in recent memory. They never trailed in the 2014 gold medal game and withstood a furious third period rally from Sweden, which was propelled by the energetic home crowd.

It's a bitter pill to swallow for Sweden, the prohibitive favorite on home ice and especially after a tough gold medal game defeat to the United States last year. They had plenty of chances and applied a ton of pressure, but were frustrated by the Finns' suffocating defense and the play of goaltender Juuse Sauos, who made big save after big save throughout the game.

NOTES: Dansk was named the top goaltender of the tournament by the WJC directorate...Alexander Wennberg was named Sweden's player of the game in the gold medal contest. Blue Jackets prospects Kerby Rychel and Josh Anderson (Canada) took fourth place after a loss in the bronze medal game to Russia. The 2015 World Junior takes place next winter in Toronto and Montreal, and three of the next four will be staged in North America.

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