BRATISLAVA – Nashville Predators prospect Jani Lajunen
scored for the second consecutive game to help Finland upset Russia 3-0 in the semifinals at the 2011 World Championships on Friday. Lajunen, who netted a key second period goal in the quarterfinals win over Norway yesterday, scored an unassisted goal 7:40 into the second period to give Finland a 2-0 lead. Lajunen signed his entry level contract with the Preds
last summer and is expected to make his North American debut next season.
Lajunen's performance was overshadowed by Mikael Granlund's jaw-dropping second-period goal to open the scoring.
Finland advances to Sunday's Gold Medal game against Sweden. The Russians will face the Czechs for bronze. It is the fourth Sweden-Finland final ever for this tournament. The Swedes won gold in 1992 and 1998, while Finland spoiled Tre Kronor’s home-ice party in 1995 and claimed its lone Worlds gold.
The most famous confrontation between Sweden and Finland was at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, where Nicklas Lidström gave Tre Kronor gold with his early third-period goal in a 3-2 win. Sweden's last Worlds gold came against the Czechs later that year.
Here, between the pipes, Finland’s Petri Vehanen earned his first tournament shutout, bettering Russia’s Konstantin Barulin. Shots on goal favoured Russia 30-29.Jani Lajunen
and Jarkko Immonen had the other Finnish goals.
Versus the Czechs in Sunday's early game, the disappointed Russians will play for their fifth consecutive medal. They won bronze on home ice in 2007, beat Canada in the 2008 and 2009 finals, and lost to the Czechs in last year's gold medal game.
For Russia, two-time NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin remains pointless through four games in Bratislava. He took two slashing penalties in this game.
It was a hard-hitting, hard-skating affair from the scoreless first period onward.
Off a faceoff in the Russian end in the second period, Finland drew first blood at 5:13 when Granlund beat defenders Dmitri Kalinin and Dmitri Kulikov behind the Russian net and scored using the famous “Mike Legg move” (or more recently, the "Sidney Crosby move"). The 19-year-old HIFK Helsinki forward picked the puck up on his stick blade while cutting around the net and wrapped it in high past Barulin’s blocker side.
The goal was video-reviewed to see if it was a high stick, but it stood, to the joy of the Finnish fans among the 9,272 at Orange Arena. It was an unbelievably gutsy play for an elimination game, and arguably the goal of the tournament. Immonen’s assist on the play tied him for the tournament points lead with Sweden’s Patrik Berglund (10).
This was also the first goal Finland had scored against Russia at an IIHF World Championship since Mikko Koivu eliminated the host team in Moscow with his shocking 2-1 overtime goal in the 2007 semi-finals. (That was the first time Russia had ever lost a Worlds game in its capital city.) The Russians beat Finland 4-0 in the 2008 semis and 5-0 at the end of last year’s Qualification Round.
The Russians came close to equalizing a few minutes later, hitting the crossbar while Mika Pyörala was penalized for taking down Ovechkin. Later in the period, an Ilya Kovalchuk rush let to a fine slot chance for Zinoviev, but Vehanen smothered the puck.
Finland grabbed a 2-0 lead at 7:40 of the third period on a strange play. Lajunen rushed into the Russian zone, pounded the puck off the back boards, and backhanded the rebound home from a bad angle along the goal line.
Immonen tied Sweden's Berglund for the tournament lead with his eighth goal, which came on the power play at 9:15. He took a beautiful Granlund pass from behind the goal line and sniped it inside Barulin's left post to make it 3-0 Finland.
The Russians outshot Finland 17-6 in the third. They got a chance to spoil Vehanen's shutout when Ossi Väänänen was given four minutes for cutting Afinogenov with a high stick. However, they failed to capitalize, as the Finns checked doggedly to chants of "Suomi!"
Russia did not pull its goalie for an extra attacker despite trailing by three as the clock counted down.
The Finns will now hope to change their bad luck in World Championship gold medal games. Apart from the 1995 triumph, they have lost six finals since the IIHF instituted the playoff format in 1992 (1992, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2007). They fell short in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey final versus Canada, too.
Finland and Sweden will co-host the IIHF World Championship in 2012 and 2013.