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Lajunen's Goal Helps Finland To Semifinals At World Championships

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators News Report used for this story

BRATISLAVA – Preds prospect Jani Lajunen, added to Team Finland's roster just one game earlier, scored a key second period goal to help Finland erase an early one goal defecit and beat Team Norway 4-1 to advance to the semifinals at the 2011 World Championships. A member of Nashville's 2008 draft class, Lajunen scored 10 goals and 22 points in 60 games during the Finnish Elite League regular season. The 20-year old added three goals and seven points during 18 playoff games. A solid two-way center, Lajunen's performances this season earned him recognition for Finland's national team.

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Fellow Preds forward prospect Craig Smith turned heads with his performances for Team USA during the tournament. Smith scored three goals and six points en route to earning recognition as one of the top-three performers for the US.

Paced by two Jarkko Immonen goals, Finland advanced to a semi-final clash with Russia. It’s Finland’s first top-four berth since winning bronze in 2008.

Immonen’s identical second-period tallies were set up by Mikael Granlund on the power play. Tuomo Ruutu, with the eventual PP winner, and Lajunen also scored for Finland. Ken Andre Olimb replied for Norway.

"They had a very good power play and scored three goals that way," said Olimb. "That's what killed us."

Immonen took over temporary possession of the tournament lead in goals (7), and moved into a tie with Canada’s John Tavares and Norway’s Mathis Olimb for points (9).

"I got two great passes from Granlund, and I had a pretty easy job to just shoot," said Immonen. "We have been practicing that play a bit. I've played like that a bit [with the KHL's Ak Bars Kazan] as well."

Finnish goalie Petri Vehanen outdueled Norway’s Lars Haugen as shots favoured Norway 38-34.

Of facing either Canada or Russia, Finnish head coach Jukka Jalonen said: "They are the top teams in the world. It’s hard to say who we would prefer to play. It will be hard for us, but mentally it will be easier for us than today."

Despite being eliminated, the Norwegians can take pride in making just their second quarter-final ever this year. (The previous one was in 2008, and they lost 8-2 to host Canada.)

2011 also marks the first time Norway has finished higher than eighth place at the Worlds since coming fifth in 1962 under an eight-team format.

"We're really proud of what we have done in this championship," said Norway's Mads Hansen. "It's one of our best ever and quite an accomplishment for our national team. It's hard to feel satisfied right now, but when we go home to Norway our heads will be high."

After a scoreless, evenly played first period in front of 8,147 fans, Norway began to press early in the second.

Ken Andre Olimb, the younger brother of Norwegian scoring leader Mathis Olimb, deked his way through the Finnish defence, got hauled down, and was awarded a penalty shot at 3:56. He made no mistake, going to the backhand and sliding the puck past an outstretched Vehanen’s glove. Olimb celebrated the 1-0 lead with unfettered exuberance, throwing himself into the boards.

"I guess we were a little nervous in the beginning, but their goal was a wake-up call," said Finland's Juhamatti Aaltonen.

The Finns didn’t panic. Just past the six-minute mark of the second, they tied it up with the man advantage, as Granlund fed Immonen for a perfect, Ovechkin-like one-timer from the left faceoff circle.

Granlund drew another penalty a couple of minutes later while stripping Morten Ask of the puck next to the Norwegian net. At 8:43, Ruutu banged in a power play rebound to make it 2-1.

Ruutu got rocked face-first against the glass by Andreas Martinsen in the Norwegian zone and the Finns capitalized again on the ensuing power play at 15:38. It was a mirror image of their first goal: Granlund to Immonen.

Finland went up 4-1 with 1:31 left in the second, as Lajunen cut to the net past Norwegian captain Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and launched a backhand over Haugen’s glove.

In the third period, the only real question was whether Immonen would complete a hat trick, preferably on a Granlund set-up. It didn't happen, but it didn't matter.

The Norwegians pulled their goalie with 1:09 remaining in an attempt to fight to the end despite trailing by three. The closest they came was a Mathis Olimb shot off the post.

"We played well in the first period," said Norwegian coach Roy Johansen. "We hoped that the 1-0 score could last longer, but it didn’t. We did what we could in this game, but it wasn’t enough, and we have to accept that."

Norway has never beaten Finland in 17 all-time IIHF World Championship meetings and three Olympic meetings. It has tied the Finns twice at the Worlds, in 1990 and 1996.

"It's important for Norway and hockey around the world that smaller teams are doing better now," said Hansen. "Last year, Denmark was in the quarter-finals and Germany is up there now. The differences between the teams are smaller now, which is better for the fans."

Finland's Janne Pesonen was injured on a hard hit by Norway's Tommy Kristiansen and had to leave the game in the third period. The Norwegian got a minor penalty. There was no immediate word on Pesonen's condition afterwards.

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