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Finnish talent shines as NHL returns to Helsinki

by Dan Rosen
HELSINKI -- Jussi Jokinen was as nervous as he's been in a year and a half.

It was the third period Thursday night and Carolina was clinging to a one-goal lead with time ticking off the big scoreboard above center ice inside Hartwall Arena.

Jokinen, who had several family members and close friends come all the way from his hometown of Kalajoki, a four-hour drive to Helsinki, just to watch him play, didn't want their evening to get spoiled by another Wild goal. After all, he had already given them so much to talk about on the ride home.

"I was pretty nervous there in the third period," Jokinen said. "I don't remember when I was that nervous, probably playoffs."

"It was a special feeling, that win, especially playing in Finland. Getting that first win is always a big thing, especially because of the way we started last season (2-13-3)." -- Jussi Jokinen

Turns out he didn't have to be. Carolina did give up a late goal to Wild defenseman Brent Burns, but closed the door over the final 3:21 to finish off a 4-3 victory in the first game of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series.

Game 2 is Friday at 12 p.m. ET (TSN, VERSUS).

"It was a special feeling, that win, especially playing in Finland," Jokinen said. "Getting that first win is always a big thing, especially because of the way we started last season (2-13-3)."

Jokinen played a huge role with the primary assist on Brandon Sutter's goal at 19:50 of the first period and a 5-on-3 goal to put the Canes ahead, 3-2, with 8:44 to play in the second period.

"It's really a special feeling to get one goal with lots of people here that influenced my career and made me the player I am right now," Jokinen said. "It feels great."

Jokinen wasn't the only Finn who starred in front of his home fans.

Joni Pitkanen played a game-high 27:35 with an assist and four blocked shots. Most importantly, according to Carolina coach Paul Maurice, Pitkanen's shift-length averaged only 45 seconds.

He led the NHL last season with an average ice time of 27:22, but Maurice said his shifts were too long.

"If you look at his ice time and his shift length and rate it against the top 10 in the NHL, the only thing that's out of whack is his shift length," Maurice said. "But he will move into the upper echelon of the League in defensemen (if he can cut it down)."

Carolina forward Tuomo Ruutu didn't factor on the score sheet, but he had four shots and nine attempts at the net over 17:52 of ice time. Maurice was pleased with his game, too.

"Ruuty is a little bit like a bull, and some nights he's going to put up a lot of points and some nights he's not, but he's just as important to our team on the nights that he doesn't," Maurice said. "Whether he scores a goal or gets an assist or not, nine times out of 10 I love his game."

Minnesota's Finnish contingent contributed as well, with Mikko Koivu creating the first goal of the game by making a strong move around Ruutu to get the puck in front to Guillaume Latendresse. Antti Miettinen had an assist on Burns' goal late in the third period. Niklas Backstrom, a Helsinki native, made 27 saves in a losing effort.

"They're obviously excited to be here and this is a big deal for them," Carolina center Brandon Sutter said. "They're happy to be home and they don't get a chance to do this very often. You can count on them playing well in both games."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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