Tuukka Rask was ill, unable to answer the bell.
Finland? Sick of being eliminated by Sweden.
In Torino, 2006, the Swedes beat the Finns in the gold-medal game, 3-2 when a point shot by Nicklas Lidstrom sailed through early in the third period.
At Sochi on Friday, it was Erik Karlsson, Lidstrom’s heir as the best Swedish blueliner in existence, who blew one by Rask replacement Kari Lehtonen on a second-period power play to put Sweden into Sunday’s gold medal game.
Unscreened, and off Lehtonen’s arm, the deciding goal in Sweden’s 2-1 victory was not a good one, much like feeling for the Finns and the Flyers’ Kimmo Timonen.
On Saturday Timonen will play for his third bronze and fourth medal in a remarkable five Olympics, not bad for a citizen of a nation with a population of 5.4 million, barely more than half of Sweden’s. Russia, which fell to the Finns 3-1 in the quarterfinals, has 143 million persons.
Finland 17-44-5 against Sweden in Olympic and World Tournament play, pulled a shocker to win the World Junior Championship and earned every bit of the praise it received through four games for being the most together team in the tournament.
On the big international ice, the country dares to dream big. So this loss hurt, every bit as much as Rask had to be hurting to have to decline the opportunity to play Finland’s most natural rival, Sweden, with so much at stake.
It gets a little crowded on the Scandinavian peninsula, all the better for rivalry purposes. Had the Finns been able to pack more bodies around Henrik Lundqvist’s crease, this time they would have had the happy ending.
Sweden’s goalie looked bad when Olli Jokinen’s wide angle shot off a waved-off icing squeezed through to give Finland a 1-0 lead early in the second period. But after Finland failed to cash a 1:35 five-on-three opportunity in the first period, its good chances were minimal.
Meanwhile, the Swedes were rallying around Lundqvist to take back the lead.
|Timonen fights off Pavel Datsyuk in Finland's 3-1 win over Russia. |
Loui Ericksson tied the game off tic-tac-toe passing by Nicklas Backstrom and Jonathan Ericsson after Daniel Sedin forced a giveaway by Olli Maatta. Then with Jokinen in the box, Karlsson unloaded and Lehtonen couldn’t handle it.
The Swedes, Nicklas Hjalmarsson, in particular, blocked a lot of shots, controlled the play, even as they were content to sit on the lead. The line of Sedin, Backstrom and Loui Eriksson was better than any one with which the Finns could counter, particularly since they were playing without either Saku or Mikko Koivu.
These are big talents irreplaceable to a small country, which on Friday was left to lament the “little things” Finland coach Erkka Westerlund said went wrong.
"We had chances to win this game but we also had difficult periods."
The Finns also didn’t have their best goalie while the other guys had Karlsson, who has eight points in the tournament. “He's the best D-man-slash-forward in the world," Patrik Berglund said. "We're happy to have him.”
Not so happy will be Finland with a third bronze to go with that silver in 2006, in five Olympic tournaments. The NHL professionals did not come here to play for third place.
And Finland certainly didn’t show up to finish second to Sweden.