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Finland players in shock at disastrous outcome

by John Dellapina
VANCOUVER -- The stares were blank, the answers groping.

This simply does not happen to Finnish hockey players. It certainly never before had happened to national treasures such as Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, players whose courage is legendary and battle level a given.

But it did happen, with sudden and devastating U.S. fury. Six goals against in the first 12:46 of play -- five in an inconceivable 6:24 alone. In an Olympic semifinal game, no less.

The Finns had no answers for how to stop it while it was happening -- a time out after the third goal had no effect and a goalie change after the fourth had even less. And afterward, upon trudging off the Canada Hockey Place ice Friday afternoon en route to a bronze-medal game Saturday and not Sunday's game for gold, this most accomplished of Finnish hockey generations couldn't make any sense of what they had just done.

"I am stunned," said Selanne, the prolific NHL goal-scorer who is appearing in his fifth Olympics.

His jaw broken in two places by a shot from Anaheim teammate and U.S. defenseman Ryan Whitney in a Ducks-Bruins game Jan. 13, Selanne had undergone reconstructive surgery the next day and somehow returned to the Anaheim lineup by Feb. 1. Being ready for this tournament was a prime motivator.

And after he tied and broke the modern-day Olympic record for career points in Group play last week, Selanne never saw this coming.

"This has never happened in my career on the national level," he said after his 30th Olympic game and his 136th game for Finland internationally. "I don't know what happened. You know?"

Said Koivu, who has battled back in his career from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and a detached retina: "I really don't know. We were trying to figure out why we came out the way we did or why they came out so strong. But a 6-0 game? It's Canada-Russia. I don't know."

Said forward Ville Peltonen, another five-time Finnish Olympian: "We have been ready pretty much every game in the past. I haven't experienced this kind of a first period. But, you know, I don't know what to say."

It began with an epic gaffe by Miikka Kiprusoff, the Calgary Flames goaltender who had turned down two previous invitations to play for Finland in the Olympics but was making this one count. Leading the tournament with a .947 save percentage entering the game, he would be on the bench wearing a baseball cap after only 10:08, having stopped just three of seven shots.

Coming 25 feet out of his crease to play an innocent flip down the ice from U.S. forward Ryan Malone, Kiprusoff had Phil Kessel bearing down on him and had to make a play. His defensemen, Joni Pitkanen and Toni Lydman, peeled off to the right and left, giving Kiprusoff two options. He chose a third, throwing the puck up the middle.

"This has never happened in my career on the national level. I don't know what happened."
-- Teemu Selanne

Malone intercepted and pumped it back into the unguarded net. Just 2:04 into the game, any chance Finland had to turn this game into one of its trademark, scoreless flinching contests was over that quickly.

"It was a bad pass," Kiprusoff said later, his stare vacant. "I thought our D was coming. The two of them kind of opened up and I didn't take a second look. I put the puck there, it was right tape-to-tape. Those guys don't miss those chances."

Rattled, Finland never recovered. Finland, which never backs down and never melts down.

Two utterly unnecessary penalties -- for interference by Janne Niskala and for boarding by Lydman -- gave the U.S. two power plays. Outhustled to loose pucks twice, Finland yielded power-play goals Zach Parise and Erik Johnson 2:14 apart, and just 8:36 in, it was 3-0.

Team Finland Gear Finland coach Jukka Jalonen fired one of his bench bullets then, calling his timeout. No matter. Patrick Kane flipped home his own rebound 1:32 later to make it 4-0.

So Jalonen fired his other bullet -- or did Kiprusoff pull himself? -- by making a goaltending change, but it was a similar non-effect. Kane scored against Nicklas Backstrom 2:23 later, and Paul Stastny completed the blitz with the sixth U.S. goal just 15 seconds after that.

"Every attack they got, they were also scoring," Peltonen said. "I don't know what to say."

Nobody did.

"Uncharacteristic of our team," defenseman Sami Salo said. "It's not how Finland has usually played."

Said defenseman Sami Lepisto: "It was just embarrassing."

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