-- The power play is a short cut to heartbreak. Just ask Slovakia, which lost a two-goal lead and the bronze medal Saturday night on the momentum of giving up two power-play goals in the third period, including the game-winner by Finland’s Olli Jokinen. The Finns edged the Slovaks, 4-3, for third place in the 2010 Winter Olympics before another raucous, appreciative full house at Canada Hockey Place.
“It’s special,” said Jokinen after the game. “Half of these guys aren’t going to wear the [Finland] jersey again.”
Down 3-1 at the second intermission, Jokinen said “Saku [Koivu] made a speech” that basically sent the message, let’s leave no energy in our bodies after this period.
Slovakia seemed in control of the game’s score and tempo after two periods. Marian Hossa scored Slovakia’s go-ahead on a tenacious pass from Olympic linemate Michal Handzus of the Los Angeles Kings. Hossa, who now goes back to work for the Chicago Blackhawks, celebrated by literally jumping up and down behind the goal. Don’t tell Hossa the bronze medal is a consolation prize.
“We wanted a medal so badly,” Hossa said after the game. “It’s just a tough pill to swallow right now because we were in a great position coming into the third and we got into penalty trouble.”
Just three minutes after he scored, Hossa caught up with an errant pass by Finn stalwart Teemu Selanne during a Finn power play. He skated the puck in on Finland goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, then passed off to 35-year-old Pavol Demitra, who scored to continue an outstanding tournament. Demitra was one night removed from scaring pretty much every hockey fan in Canada when Roberto Luongo, his NHL teammate for hometown Vancouver, just barely gloved away his late-second attempt to tie the semifinal.
But you don’t want to give the Finns too much open space, NHL-size rink or not. That’s a bad idea during the final 20 minutes when you trying to put a bronze medal around your necks for the first time in your young country’s history. While Slovak defenseman Andrej Meszaros was off for high sticking, Niklas Hagman redirected a Kimmo Timonen blast from the point for the second Finland goal. Hagman, recently traded to Calgary by Team USA and Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, totaled four goals during these Olympics.
The goal seemed to give the Finns the pick-up they needed. Jokinen scored at even strength a minute and a half later on a pinpoint pass from Jarkko Ruutu. When Hossa went to the penalty box for tripping a minute after that, Jokinen split two Slovak defensemen to benefit from another great Finnish pass, this one from Joni Pitkanen. The Finns scored three times in 3:35 to go from trailing to in front.
Pitkanen was hit with a tripping penalty of his own late in the third period. To no one’s surprise, the Slovaks mounted another mad attack in the final minutes, repeating the Team Canada scare. Marian Gaborik, Richard Zednik and Demitra all could have scored if not for Kiprusoff returning to being, well, Kiprusoff. Demitra’s chance came on a hard slap shot with less than 20 seconds on the game clock.
Gaborik, who missed the third period of the Canada game but looked fit Saturday night, scored the Slovaks’ first goal, which came at the halfway mark of the second period. But the New York Ranger of the night was the newly acquired Jokinen. He now has 11 goals for Finland in three Olympics.
“He’s just a goal scorer and a clutch player,” said Finn teammate Tuomo Ruutu about Jokinen. “He just had an amazing night -- again.”
Finland has now medaled in five of the last six Olympics, missing only 2002. The country earned silver in 2006 and 1988, while this year’s bronze goes in the trophy case with the third-place medals from 1994 and 1998. Finnish veterans Jere Lehtinen, Koivu and Ville Peltonen all earned their fourth Olympic medals, tying a record held by three other players.
“It’s an honor to play with them,” said Ruutu, who will watch Carolina teammates Eric Staal (Canada) and Tim Gleason (USA) battle for gold tomorrow. “I really mean that. Lehtinen and Koivu and Teemu Selanne, just look at all of them sacrificing their bodies in the third period.”
Without prompting, Rutuu, Selanne and Detroit Red Wing Valtteri Filppula all volunteered that “the two best teams in the world” play for the gold medal Sunday.
At game’s end, the Finns looked happy and relieved, especially Selanne, a warrior who has played on Finland’s national team for 23 years. The Slovaks, who played a formidable tournament in all aspects, looked exhausted and down. Losing a two-goal lead and some heavy medal will do that to you.
0 3 0 - 3
1 0 4 - 5
1. FIN, Salo (Unassisted) 18:50 (PPG)
Penalties - Hagman FIN (holding) 2:13, Peltonen FIN (hooking) 9:49, Palffy SVK (holding) 17:42.
2. SVK, Gaborik (Demitra, Chara) 9:56 (PPG)
3. SVK, Marian Hossa (Handzus, Demitra) 15:38 (PPG)
4. SVK, Demitra (Marian Hossa) 18:45 (SHG)
Penalties - Gaborik SVK (delaying the game) 4:35, M. Koivu FIN (hooking) 8:37, Jurcina SVK, (cross-checking) 11:03, Team Penalty served by Marcel Hossa SVK (too many men on the ice) 13
:11, S. Koivu FIN (hooking) 13:42, Kukkonen FIN (cross-checking) 15:16, Radivojevic SVK (double minor high sticking) 17:54.
5. FIN, Hagman (Timonen) 5:06 (PPG)
6. FIN, Jokinen (J. Ruutu) 6:41
7. FIN, Jokinen (Pitkanen, Kiprusoff) 8:41 (PPG)
8. FIN, Filppula (Timonen) 19:49 (ENG)
Penalties - Cibak SVK (holding) 3:02, Meszaros SVK (high sticking) 3:36, Marian Hossa SVK (tripping) 7:53, Salo FIN (holding) 10:28, Pitkanen FIN (tripping) 16:42.
SHOTS ON GOAL
5 9 8 - 22
12 9 12 - 33
(goals-shots against) - SVK: Halak (L, 4-32); FIN: Kiprusoff (W, 3-22).
(goals-chances) - SVK: 2-7; FIN: 3-8.