Calgary, AB - It once seemed so improbable, but Sweden has advanced to the gold medal game. Trailing in the third, it appeared as though they were destined to battle in the tournament's third-place, consolation matchup.
Finland began the 2012 World Junior Championship with an 8-1 blowout loss to Canada on opening night; since then, they'd won four straight, had out-scored their opponents 28-7 and were rolling at the right time.
They led through 40 minutes, too.
In Tuesday's matchup vs. Sweden, their winning ways halted with a 3-2 shootout loss; an emotional one, too, as Thursday's championship match will see Tre Kroner challenge Russia or, as emphatic as could be, an exhibition-round rematch vs. Canada.
Finland's 2-0 lead through two periods wasn't enough, as Sweden marched back with a pair of third-period markers by William Karlsson and Max Friberg to equal the score. No. 14 added another in the shootout, the game-winner, and was instrumental across the board.
"It feels awesome," said elated Oilers prospect Oscar Klefbom, who was named Player of the Game. "We had a good game, we won. We have to be happy. We know we can do much better, though, so we have to reload on and focus on the [gold medal game].
"Finland was good," he added, congratulating his opponent on a valiant game. "We didn't start too good, but we really had a great third period."
Sweden outshot Finland 14-6 in the opening period, but it concluded in a 1-0 score favouring the blue and white. Alexander Ruutu's third put his club on the board at 18:29, putting the Swedes in a tough, but surmountable hole.
Tilted as it was, it didn't get any easier in the second as Sweden continued its onslaught, snapping an additional 20 pucks on Sami Aittokallio.
All were turned aside, but Finland's seven second-period attempts were enough to engineer another goal. With Joakim Nordstrom looking to choreograph a breakout, he was stripped, turning the puck over and allowing Joel Armia to step up and cash with his fifth goal of the tournament.
The Oilers prospect couldn't help but hide his enthusiasm, but agreed that there were points when it appeared bleak.
"It was tough," he said. "We [came back] against Russia, so we tried to move on and believe in each other, and work hard. It worked pretty well. Get into the goal, crash the net, that's what we needed.
"Very important," he added, noting the value in staying patient. "It was the key, I think. We worked them down and we earned a goal in the third period because of it. Now we need to have the same game in the next one."
"I loved his game," said Sweden Head Coach Roger Ronnberg said, nothing the outing the Player of the Game had (six shots on goal, -1 rating). "He was our shutdown D, played against the other team's top lines and shut them down pretty good; he contributed well offensively, too. He's a really good two-way defenceman."
The 6'3", 240-pound blueliner is now eagerly anticipating an intense, speedy gold-medal game against Canada or Russia on Thursday.
"I expect speed, physical play," he explained. "We know Canada, because we played against them in Edmonton (5-3 pre-tournament win), so we know what kind of game they play. We're looking forward to it. It doesn't matter if it's Russia or Canada. We're going for the gold anyway."