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Ristolainen's OT winner gives Finland WJC gold

by Mike G. Morreale

Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen scored 9:42 into overtime to give Finland a dramatic 3-2 victory against Sweden in the gold-medal game of the 2014 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship before 12,023 on Sunday at Malmo Arena in Malmo, Sweden.

Ristolainen, a first-round pick (No. 8) of the Buffalo Sabres last June, collected a pass from captain Teuvo Teravainen along the right-wing wall inside the opposing blue line and curled toward the cage before tucking a backhand underneath goalie Oscar Dansk to give Finland its third WJC title and first since 1998.

"I saw that they played man-on-man defense in their own end," Ristolainen told the IIHF website. "It was empty in front of the net. I just skated there. I tried to put the puck somewhere hard and it went in."

Teravainen, a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012, led the tournament with 13 assists and 15 points. He notched three assists on Sunday.

"Nobody trusted us to win, but we trusted," Teravainen said. "We knew we were going to be a good team and we had a chance to win this tournament. It's an awesome feeling right now."

Finland goalie Juuse Saros, who stopped five shots in overtime, finished with 35 saves. Dansk, who also had five saves in OT, made 28 saves. Finland becomes the sixth different country to capture gold at the WJC over the past 15 years.

Dansk had just robbed Ristolainen on a backhand in the crease at the seven-minute mark in overtime before he was given another chance. At the other end, Saros turned back Lucas Wallmark on a quick one-timer from the slot at the six-minute mark.

Sweden defenseman Christian Djoos, a seventh-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2012, scored a power-play goal midway through the third to pull his team into a 2-2 tie. With Ristolainen off for holding at 10:11, Wallmark fed Djoos at the point between the circles and the 6-foot, 158-pound left-hander took a slap shot that beat Saros at 10:53.

The contest marked the first time Sweden and Finland have squared off in a WJC final. When the Swedes celebrated their first gold medal in 1981, the Finns earned silver, but that was before the adoption of the current playoff format in 1996.

Sweden outshot Finland, 37-31.

"We were playing in their zone the whole game," Sweden captain Filip Forsberg said. "Obviously, it's hard to lose like this."

Sweden missed a golden opportunity to celebrate its first WJC title on home soil in six attempts. The country fell short in their previous five opportunities in 1979, 1984, 1993, 2000 and 2007.

"It's just frustrating and really sad at the same time that we didn't pull through in the end," Sweden defenseman Gustav Olofsson said. "You're that close. There's no excuse for it. I thought we had a really good tournament, but in the end it just wasn't enough."

The victory is even more remarkable considering Finland was without the services of 19-year-old defenseman Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh Penguins) and 18-year-old center Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers), who are both starring in the NHL. The team also learned just prior to the tournament that forward Kasperi Kapanen, considered the top European draft prospect in 2014, would be unavailable due to a shoulder injury.

"It's excellent how the team has grown," Finnish coach Karri Kivi said. "It was kind of a fairy tale. The painful moments during the tournament made us grow."

Just last year, Finland finished seventh after missing the medal round and needed to survive the relegation pool. Prior to Sunday, it hadn't won a WJC medal since a bronze in 2006, and hadn't played in a WJC championship game since 2001. In addition to its 1998 gold-medal win, Finland also won gold in 1987.

Saros, a fourth-round pick (No. 99) of the Nashville Predators last June, had a tournament best 1.57 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.

At the other end, Dansk was also splendid. The Columbus Blue Jackets' 2012 second-round pick (No. 31) was second to Saros with a 1.79 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in six games.

Finland took a 2-1 lead just 1:15 after Sweden had squared the contest in the second when Saku Maenalanen one-timed a puck past Dansk at the left post after taking an across-the-crease feed from Teravainen. Maenalanen, a fifth-round pick of the Predators in 2013, scored his team-leading seventh of the tournament at 8:38.

The Swedes had a good opportunity to pull even when Finland's Ristolainen was whistled for tripping at 16:07, but the host country could only generate two shots against Saros. The best of the two chances came off a blast from Forsberg that Saros stopped at the 17-minute mark of the second.

The Swedes pulled into a 1-1 tie on a power-play goal by top 2014 draft-eligible prospect Wallmark in the second at 7:53. Wallmark took a pass from Lukas Bengtsson at the top of the right circle and ripped a shot past a screened Saros just 13 seconds after defenseman Julius Honka was assessed a holding penalty.

Many of the fans in attendance barely got into their seats when Finland opened a 1-0 lead on a goal by defenseman Esa Lindell from the top of the left circle just 28 seconds into the game. Lindell, a third-round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2012, scored his second of the tournament on a wrist shot that beat a screened Dansk high to the long side.

The Finns were given two power-play opportunities and had a combined three shots with the man advantage but Dansk was there each time. His best stop came with 1:50 left in the first when he turned away a blast from the left point by defenseman Ville Pokka.

The Swedes had one power-play chance in the first when Lindell was whistled for holding at 9:29. Despite good sustained pressure and five shots with the advantage, Saros proved flawless.

The victory evens the all-time series with Sweden at the World Junior Championship. Each team has won 15 times and there have been two ties in 32 matches.


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