Evgeni Malkin scored a hat trick as Russia scored six straight goals to eliminate defending champion and co-host Finland with a 6-2 win Saturday in the semifinals of the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship.
Russia will have a chance to capture its first World Championship gold medal since 2009 in the championship game Sunday against Slovakia. Finland will play the Czech Republic for the bronze.
Russia entered the game unbeaten, but facing a Finland team that had the hometown Helsinki crowd behind it, the home team jumped to an early lead.
2012 IIHF HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP
By the numbers.
By Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer The 2012 World Hockey Championship offered thrills for fans from around the world. Here's a look at some of the numbers that made it all so interesting. READ MORE ›
Janne Niskala put Finland ahead 1-0 when his shot deflected off the stick of Russia forward Denis Kokarev and beat goalie Semyon Varlamov high. The 1-0 Finland lead marked the first time Russia had trailed at the World Championship since the second period of their May 11 preliminary-round victory against Sweden. Coming into the game, Russia had only trailed for 50:37 in the entire tournament, and as with previous deficits, it was Malkin who led the comeback.
The NHL's leading scorer in 2011-12 tied the game with 4:27 remaining in the opening period, finding the rebound off Nikita Nikitin's point shot and beating goalie Petri Vehanen from an awkward angle. Later in the period, Ossi Vaananen took a holding penalty and Malkin again went to work, beating Vehanen with just 54 seconds left in the period.
Despite a short-lived scare early in the second period in which Malkin appeared to be injured following a hit by defenseman Joonas Jarvinen, Russia's attack continued. Alex Ovechkin doubled the lead midway through the second, eluding defenders before wiring a perfect shot past Vehanen. Eight minutes later, Malkin completed his hat trick, notching his tournament-leading 10th goal as Finnish captain Mikko Koivu served a slashing penalty.
When Kokarev expanded the Russia lead with his first goal of the tournament just 65 seconds into the third period, it was apparent Finland's reign as world champion effectively was over.
Sergei Shirokov scored 8:41 into the third to make it 6-1, with Finland's Mikael Granlund scoring to stop the Russia streak with just under four minutes remaining in the game. But by then the contest was well in hand and Russia already was enjoying revenge against the team that beat them 3-0 in last year's semifinal in Slovakia.
With the hat trick, Malkin also moved into a tie for the tournament scoring lead with Norway's Patrick Thoresen.
Slovakia 3, Czech Republic 1
Longtime NHL player Miroslav Satan scored twice, including the eventual winner, and the Slovaks rode a brilliant performance from goaltender Jan Laco and another clutch third period to earn a berth in the championship game against Russia at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship.
Both teams were considered underdogs in their quarterfinal matchup, especially Slovakia, who upset top-seeded Canada thanks to a late tip-in from Michal Handzus. The Czechs qualified for the semis with a goal in the final minute from Milan Michalek against Sweden, but no late-game heroics took place in this matchup between neighboring countries. With the win, last year's tournament hosts will have a chance to win their first world championship since 2002.
Slovakia came out firing in the first period, outshooting the Czechs 11-8 and getting the game-opening goal from Satan, who earned his third of the tournament with just under five minutes remaining in the frame. Unhappy with the first 20 minutes, the Czechs took over in the second, tying the game when Tomas Plekanec won an offensive zone faceoff and fed the puck directly to Michal Frolik, who beat Laco low with a quick shot. Despite outshooting the Slovaks 14-7 in the period, things turned for the Czechs with 3:25 remaining in the second when Frolik appeared dazed following a hit from Mario Bliznack.
Czech Alois Hadamczik, who lost star forward Martin Erat midway through the first on a similar play, was enraged that a penalty wasn't called. Frolik returned in the final period.
The Czechs had problems recovering from the loss of Erat, who was tied for the team lead with three goals in just five tournament games and played only four shifts before coming out of the semifinal contest. Lacking that offensive firepower would benefit the Slovaks, who came into the game outscoring the opposition 8-1 in the third period. With Bliznack serving a tripping penalty to start the third, the Czech Republic came out firing. But Satan struck again while on the penalty kill, pouncing on a loose puck following a Handzus poke check and beating Jakub Kovar to give his team the lead 56 seconds into the final period. Libor Hudacek doubled the Slovak lead 3:27 later and Laco took over from there, stopping 15 Czech shots in the period and finishing the game with 36 saves.
It's an impressive run for a Slovakian squad that qualified for the playoff round at the Worlds for the first time in five years. They played Russia in the preliminary round of last year's championships, losing 4-3.