Team Finland dug itself a bit of a first period hole in giving up a pair of power play tallies on Team Canada’s first two man advantages. It turned out to be the difference in the game.
Team Finland goaltender Kari Lehtonen is the only reason the Finns had even a ghost of a chance late in the game. Lehtonen made some remarkable saves in the middle of the contest – a pad save on Rick Nash in front stands out in particular – to give Finland a chance to rally. It was 3-0 Canaa after the second period, but if you saw Lehtonen’s stoning of Rick Nash and other Canucks in the second period, you’d swear without him it should have been 5-0 Canada.
Nash’s third period goal put an exclamation point on the game and on his selection as the tournament’s most valuable player. Nash has been an upper echelon player in the NHL since coming into the league in 2002-03, but this tournament may go down as his coming out party as a dominant player in all aspects of the game. Nash was a force on both special teams and he was an untamable monster in the offensive zone. After Finland had pulled to within a goal with a third-period outburst, Nash drove into the offensive zone with a defender wrapped around him, deked Lehtonen and scored to remove all reasonable hope from Finland’s comeback bid.
Beginning with Andrew Hutchinson’s late third period goal Thursday for the U.S., until Colby Armstrong’s tally in the second period Sunday, the only goals scored against Kari Lehtonen in elimination play were to Lehtonen’s stick side. No coincidence. Lehtonen’s glove hand ranks among the best in the world.
Finland’s first goal was sublime. Team captain Ville Peltonen turned behind the Canadian cage and threaded a perfect backhand pass through the skates of Team Canada defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Petri Kontiola took the puck in the slot, fought off his check and wristed a shot over Cam Ward’s glove hand for his second goal of the tournament.
Down 3-0 to the formidable, undefeated Canadians, and having survived consecutive overtime scares from the Americans and the Russians, it would have been a safe wager to forecast a Finnish fold Sunday night. Instead, the Finns generated a genuine scare for the Canadians late in the third period. It was only Nash’s late dash to heroism that thwarted a furious Finnish comeback.
Team Finland captain Ville Peltonen and alternate captain Jere Lehtinen deserve special kudos for their patient performance with the press in the mixed zone after the contest. Both Finnish veterans stood and filled reporters’ notebooks and tape recorders long after the final buzzer while a television screen showed their opponents’ champagne celebration in the locker room.
Team Canada center Jonathan Toews has yet to declare whether he will spend the 2007-08 season skating for the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota University or the Chicago Blackhawks. We have no insight as to his intention, but it looks to us as if he’s ready to start drawing an NHL paycheck. Fellow Fighting Sioux Mike Commodore told us earlier in the week that he wished he had “one quarter of the talent” that Toews has. The young man earned regular shifts on an undefeated, gold medal winning club and looks to be a staple of Canadian national teams for the next decade-plus.