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It will be remembered historically as the 2010 Olympic bronze-medal game, but it might as well have been billed as a showcase for the talents of two high-scoring New York Rangers forwards -- Olli Jokinen of Finland and Marian Gaborik
Both Blueshirts were outstanding on Saturday night in Vancouver, but in the end, it was Jokinen and his Finnish teammates who captured the hardware, beating the Slovaks 5-3. Finland, a routine medal-winner in recent Olympic tournaments, followed up its silver-medal effort four years ago with a bronze this time around.
|Rangers forward Olli Jokinen goes in for Finland's bronze-medal winning goal against Slovakia netminder Jaroslav Halak at 8:41 of the third period on Saturday. |
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Right up until the end, however, the outcome was in doubt. Saturday's game was a back-and-forth battle, and an unknowing spectator might have thought gold was the medal on the line.
Gaborik, who saw 5:45 of ice time in the final period, was part of heavy Slovak desperation pressure in the closing two minutes, but Finnish goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, a former Vezina Trophy winner with the Calgary Flames, slammed the door decisively. Valteri Filpulla iced the Finnish victory with an empty-net goal at 19:49 of the third.
The bronze-medal thriller was a fitting lead-in to Sunday's eagerly-anticipated gold-medal showdown between Canada and a Team USA squad that includes Rangers captain Chris Drury and alternate captain Ryan Callahan
. That game gets under way at 3:15 p.m. ET, with coverage on NBC beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
Jokinen almost single-handedly won the bronze-medal game for the Finns on Saturday night, scoring two goals in a two-minute span of the final period to tie the game at 3-3 and then give Finland the lead for good with the game-winner on a power play.
Gaborik also scored in Saturday's game, notching the first Slovak goal on a man-advantage to set off a three-goal second period that gave the Slovaks a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes and appeared to have them well on their way to bronze.
The two goals by Jokinen and one by Gaborik were all very slick scoring plays that gave an indication of how much these two can do for the Blueshirts in what should be many big-game situations down the 2009-10 NHL season's homestretch, which begins on Tuesday night at Ottawa.
Jokinen's tying goal, scored at 6:41 of the third, was the only even-strength tally of the night other than the empty-netter. It came just 95 seconds after Niklas Hagman had cut the Slovak lead to 3-2 when he deflected in a Kimmo Timonen shot for a power-play goal at 5:06 of the first. Hagman's followed an extended 5-on-3 for the Finns, who were unable to convert until it became a 5-on-4.
Feeding off energy from the Hagman goal, Jokinen made it a tie game with his first goal of the night, second goal of the 2010 tournament, and 10th of his Olympic career.
The scoring play resulted from an aggressive Finnish forecheck that saw Jarkko Ruutu pull in a loose puck in the left circle and feed a quick pass to Jokinen in the high slot. Jokinen fired a high, hard shot as he drifted toward the left cirlce, and his bullet found the top left corner of the net behind Slovakia goalie Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens.
The more impressive -- and memorable -- goal, however, was the winner that Jokinen scored two minutes later during another Finnish power-play opportunity. Sprung by a Joni Pitkanen pass at the Slovakia blue line, Jokinen flew past two defenders, down the slot and right into the crease area, where he slid a backhand under Halak for a 4-3 lead with 11:19 remaining in the game.
Jokinen's performance capped off a stunning turnaround in which the Finns literally pulled the bronze away from the spirited Slovaks, who were looking to win their nation's first Olympic hockey medal.
The Slovak win appeared to be an afterthought following a remarkable second period that featured Gaborik's goal. If he was hurting physically in any way, Gaborik certainly didn't show it on Saturday as he scored on a power play at 9:56 of the second period to tie the game at 1-1 and set off a three-goal period for the slovaks.
Prior to the game, there had been concern that Gaborik might be suffering from an injury. He had not played in the third period of the Slovaks' 3-2 semifinal loss to Canada on Friday night, but Slovakia coach Jan Filc later explained he had kept Gaborik out for precautionary reasons.
When the bell rang for Gaborik to help his team win a medal, the Blueshirts sniper was there to log a total 17:06 of ice time, the fifth highest total among Slovak forwards. He also recorded three shots on goal Saturday night and led the Slovaks with 31 for the tournament,
Jokinen will come home with the medal that Gaborik might have thought was his heading into the fateful third period. The Finnihs Rangers forward's inspired final 20 minutes came after he drew a double-minor for high-sticking against Slovakia's Branko Radivojevic at 18:45 of the middle period.
The Radivojevic high-stick, which nearly knocked off Jokinen's helmet, changed the tone of the entire game, putting the Finns on an extended power play to start the third period and leading to two more Slovak penalties in the first four minutes of the third.
|Rangers scoring leader Marian Gaborik and Slovakia teammate Pavol Demitra celebrate Gaborik's second-period goal on Saturday night. Gaborik led the Slovaks with four goals at the 2010 Olympics. |
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Jokinen saw 2:48 of his total 10:14 of ice time in the third period, and he certainly made the most of it. He spent most of his night on a line with Ville Peltonen and Jarkko Ruutu. He finished the game with a team-high five shots on goal, including three in the third period. Overall, Finland outshot the Slovaks 33-22.
Ironically, Gaborik scored from a point on the ice and into a part of the net that was very similar to the first of Jokinen's two goals.
The Finns had led 1-0 after the first period after a late goal from defenseman Sami Salo, but Gaborik's goal changed all the momentum, at least for a period.
The goal, Gaborik's team-leading fourth of the Olympics, was the kind of man-advantage tally Rangers fans have become used to witnessing in a 2009-10 season that has seen Gaborik score 35 goals through the Blueshirts' first 62 games.
Working the right side of the ice on the power play, Gaborik snuck into the slot as he saw Pavol Demitra controlling the puck at the base of the left circle. Gaborik took a pass from Demitra, took a couple of strides to his left to the inside edge of the left circle, and unleashed a hard wrist shot into the top left corner of the net. Finnish goaltender Kiprusoff had no time to react to Gaborik's remarkably quick release.
Just under six minutes after his goal, Gaborik was on ice for the go-ahead score by the Slovaks, working a 5-on-3 power play. Gaborik was again manning his post along the right boards when Demitra, onthe left side, fed a centering pass to Michal Handzus, whose shot was blocked. The puck, however, trickled forward to wide-open Chicago Blackhawks star Marian Hossa, who was stationed just outside the crease to Kiprusoff's left for an easy bang-home goal.
Demitra and Hossa hooked up for the third goal while the Slovaks were killing the first half of the double-minor penalty to Radivojevic at 18:45 of the middle period.
After a Finnish turnover in the Slovak zone, Hossa and Demitra broke out through the neutral zone on a 2-on-1. Hossa, flying down the right side, fed a perfect centering pass up and over the defenseman's stick to Demitra, who was in full stride. Demitra lifted a shot up over Kiprusoff for a stunning 3-1 lead that seemed to put Slovakia in full control of the game until Jokinen and his Finnish teammates changed everything in the final 20 minutes.