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Finland, Sweden to meet in emotionally-charged all-Nordic final

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Canada versus the Soviet Union at the 1972 Summit Series. The "Miracle on Ice" U.S. team versus the Soviets at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

Finland and Sweden at the 2006 Turin Games?

In Scandanavia, Sunday's all-Nordic final for the gold medal is being spoken of in the same terms.

"Obviously, if you were born in Finland, you want to play Sweden. That's the ultimate," Finnish forward Ville Niemenen said. "The situation can't get any better, can't get more exciting. It's the ultimate goal for Finnish people."

"It's rivals like the U.S. and Canada for sure," Swedish forward Tomas Holmstrom said. "It's pretty much the same. It's going to be good."

The Finns, who have outscored their opponents 27-5 at these Games, are looking for their first gold medal. Sweden won its only gold at the 1994 Lillehammer Games on Peter Forsberg's shootout-winning goal over Canada.

Besides being neighboring countries with a long and, at times, antgaonistic history, the Finns and Swedes have forged an on-ice rivalry as well.

Finland beat Sweden for its only World Championship in 1995. The Swedes reclaimed the title three years later. At the 1998 Nagano Games, Finland ended Sweden's bid for a second straight gold medal with a 2-1 win in the quarterfinals.

"It does make it bigger when you face Sweden. We feel that they always think that they're better than us," said Saku Koivu, the Finns' leading scorer with eight assists and 11 points. "We've played against them so often for so many years, and I think every country has their opponent that they really want to beat. For us, it's Sweden."

But Swedish captain Mats Sundin downplayed the matchup.

"To be honest,we've all played them so many times in our careers, it's not like it will be something different," he said. "What's nice is to be playing in a gold-medal game at the Olympics. What we know about Finland is that it's always a tough game when we play them."

With a win, Finland also would become the first team to go undefeated in Olympic play since the Soviet Union at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.

Finland advanced to its first gold-medal game since 1980 with a 4-0 semifinal win Friday over Russia.

Philadelphia Flyers rookie goaltender Antero Niittymaki made 21 saves for his fifth win - and third shutout - of these games. He has has just 18 wins and two shutouts in 34 games with the Flyers.

Niittymaki and Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick Fredrik Norrena has combined to give up just five goals in seven games, three coming in a quarterfinal win over Russia.

Besides stellar goaltending, the Finns also have six of the top nine scorers in the tournament. Only Ottawa Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson cracks the top nine for Sweden.

"I've never been on a team that's so tight and together," Finnish defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "Everybody's doing their job and working very hard and now this is a big thing that we gave done for our country as a group."

Sweden, looking for its second gold and eighth medal overall since 1924, moved on to the finals with a 7-3 rout of the Czech Republic on Friday.

Forsberg, the hero of the 1994 gold-medal winning team, set up a goal 34 seconds into the game, and the Swedes tacked on four goals in the second period.

"From the beginning, we showed we wanted this game, and I think the Czechs felt that," Alfredsson said.

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