Finns find lost goalscoring touch
Victory over Slovakia ensures quarter-final spot and at least 2nd place in the group
Finland's hockey players had been suffering from something of a goal drought at the IIHF World Championships, notwithstanding a very healthy number of shots made on goal in their first four matches.
The 5-2 win over Slovakia on Monday was therefore a relief not only in the sense that ensured the Finns' passage to the knockout stages of the tournament, but also because two of the team's forwards managed to break their scoring duck for the tournament, after a worryingly long dry spell.
Carolina Hurricanes winger Jussi Jokinen scored twice, and his celebrations betrayed how much it meant to get off the mark in his fifth appearance on the ice in Germany.
Another player who was entrusted with the task of scoring goals is Juhamatti Aaltonen, and he got the last, into an empty net after the Slovaks pulled their goalie a minute from time.
The Finns once again started slowly, and the first period was goalless in spite of two powerplay opportunities for the Finnish Lions midway through the period.
Petri Kontiola broke the deadlock on 29:20, and within four minutes veteran defenseman Petteri Nummelin (1+5 for the tournament so far and Finland's top points-scorer) and Jokinen had made it 3-0.
In the third, Slovakia pulled a goal back through Tomas Tatar, but Jokinen's second strike on 56:34 on a powerplay put the game out of reach, even if Vladimir Mihalik scored a second for the opposition two minutes from the buzzer.
Juhamatti Aaltonen's breakaway goal was the icing on the cake and a personal morale-booster.
The victory removes any doubts that the Finns - who started the tournament with a disastrous 4-1 defeat to Denmark but have since racked up four straight if not overly convincing wins - would qualify for the quarter-finals and the knockout stages of the tournament.
This result and the fact that Denmark lost 2-1 to Belarus in the late-evening game means that Finland can finish no lower than 2nd in Qualification Round Group E, regardless of the outcome of tonight's final match against Russia. Denmark have also done enough to qualify despite their slip-up against Belarus, and the final spot will be taken by Slovakia or Germany.
The Russians, ante-post favourites to retain their World Championships crown, will certainly provide a stiff test for the Lions.
They are the only unbeaten side in the entire tournament (Switzerland lost their share of that title by going down 3-2 to Norway yesterday) and they have scored 19 goals in their five games to date.
In each of their matches so far, the Russians have scored first, so an early strike by the Finns might be one way to unsettle them. Whoever wins the match will also top the Group and get to play the 4th-placed team in Group F in the quarter-finals.
In Group F, Sweden and Switzerland head the table with 9 points each and have both qualified for the quarters, and Canada and the Czech Republic each have six points.
Sweden play the Swiss tonight for bragging-rights on who will win the group, and the Canadians and Czechs also meet.
Canada, too, are through thanks to their head-to-head win against Norway (also on six points), but defeat for the Czechs in normal time would dump them out of the competition, as they lost to the Norwegians in the Preliminary Round.
Tonight's Finland-Russia encounter is naturally being shown live on YLE TV2, with coverage starting from 21:00.
Previously in HS International Edition:
One down, two to go…(17.5.2010)
2010 IIHF World Championships (Wikipedia)