Finland coach Erkka Westerlund wasn't the only one letting out a sigh of relief on Dec. 15 at about 9 p.m. EST, or about 4 a.m. Finnish time. General manager Jari Kurri surely did the same, along with about half the nation. That was the day was when Teemu Selanne scored his fourth goal of the season, and his first in 19 games, to end the longest drought of his career.
In his next game, Selanne had an assist, bringing a smile to the faces of both Selanne and Westerlund. Since it's that smile that helps define Selanne, it's a good sign for Finland. The 43-year-old forward is not expected to carry the team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Still, the team would more than welcome his goal scoring, even if the Finnish Flash can only produce in flashes.
It should also be noted, though, that Selanne went the entire Vancouver tournament without scoring a goal, which means that his last Olympic goal dates to mid-February at the 2006 Turin Games. He hasn't scored in an Olympic tournament playoff stage since the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and yet, Finland has won a silver and a bronze medal since.
Here is the projected lineup for Finland:
WHAT'S CHANGED: Mikael Granlund has been sidelined for a while because of a concussion, but has returned to practices and should be able to return to game action shortly. Another setback might keep him out of Sochi, though.
While Olli Jokinen is on the fourth line in this projected lineup, he can easily slide up and down the lineup. He's currently fourth in NHL scoring among Finnish players, behind Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula, and Jussi Jokinen.
The top nine forwards are locks, as is Olli Jokinen. Westerlund has to make up his mind whether he considers the 18-year-old Aleksander Barkov to be ready, or whether he wants more sandpaper in the lineup.
WHAT'S CHANGED: In the last two weeks, Olli Määttä's stock has skyrocketed, at least in Finland, a country desperate to find some new blood for the national team's defense. He's shown he can play big minutes in the NHL, and is now a lock to make the team, and could even be a top-4 defenseman, especially since he can play on either side of the ice.
WHAT'S CHANGED: Sure, Antti Raanta has been good with the Blackhawks, but with all the goalies Finland can choose from, three magic words will leave Raanta out of the Olympics: body of work.
Rask (17), Niemi(18), and Lehtonen (13) are the top three in wins by Finnish goalies. Rask has the League's third-best save percentage and goals against average - behind two likely non-Olympians in Ben Scrivens and Josh Harding - while Niemi has played most minutes in the NHL this season. The delay in Pekka Rinne's return from hip surgery makes it even less likely he will be on the team.
Barkov is closer than ever to making the team. He went through a long drought as well, but has recently got his scoring touch back, and is currently fifth in scoring among the Finns in the NHL. Jori Lehterä is still on the outside looking in. Jesse Joensuu's ice time with the Oilers has been on the way down, and his minus-13 rating doesn't make his case any stronger.