Finns flatten Austria
Grabner’s hat trick wasted, Selanne leaves game
As the lineups were announced pre-game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, a snippet of Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” played in the background. Perhaps that was a harbinger of the balanced Finnish attack. Fourteen different blue-and-white players were point-getters in the victory.
"It’s good for confidence," said Olli Jokinen, the overall leading goal-scorer from the 2006 and 2010 Olympics combined. "Every line was able to score. You need to have four lines going in this tournament if you want to go anywhere."
Mikael Granlund racked up two goals and an assist for Finland, and Jarkko Immonen scored twice. Jussi Jokinen and Petri Kontiola tallied a goal and an assist apiece, and Sami Lepisto and Olli Maatta added singles. Sami Vatanen chipped in three assists.
Captain Teemu Selanne left the game after the first period with an upper-body injury, but is expected to return for Finland's next game against Norway.
“He’s an old man, so he needs some rest more than the other guys,” Kontiola joked. And Jussi Jokinen added: "He's a warrior. I think he'll be back for us."
For Austria, Michael Grabner potted a hat trick, and Thomas Hundertpfund had the other goal.
Goalie Tuukka Rask made 16 saves for Finland, and Austria’s Bernhard Starkbaum had 48 stops.
"On the back end, we know we’re not the quickest or fastest," said Austrian captain Thomas Vanek. "Our goaltender, if we want to beat a team like this or any team, he needs to be the best player. I thought he was good for us, but not great. That’s not a knock on him. That’s just reality."Continue reading
It will be interesting to monitor how Rask’s aggressive style will fare against tougher opponents on the larger Olympic ice surface. The ultra-quick 26-year-old Savonlinna native, who backstopped the Boston Bruins to last year’s Stanley Cup final, last represented his country at three IIHF World Junior Championships. He won bronze in 2006 in Vancouver on small ice.
With Finland’s goaltending depth, its choice of NHL netminders has been a hot topic of speculation. Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars, named Best Goalie as a 2007 IIHF World Championship silver medalist, dressed as Rask’s backup, while Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks, who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010, was the odd man out.
Traditionally a strong starter, the Finns won their third consecutive Olympic opener. They beat Switzerland 5-0 in 2006 and Belarus 5-1 in 2010.
"If guys didn’t know what to expect out of this tournament, I think we got a good reality check today," Vanek said. "We need to play tighter. We’re going to give up a lot of shots – we know that. We need to make sure that 90 percent of the shots are coming from the outside and not give them the second and third opportunity. That’s what really hurt us today."
This wasn't textbook Finnish hockey, but it was the three points coach Erkka Westerlund and his cohorts were seeking.
The Finns got off to a sloppy start defensively. Michael Raffl sent a beautiful pass from behind the goal line to Grabner and his one-timer from the bottom of the right faceoff circle beat Rask just 36 seconds in to give Austria a 1-0 lead.
"I wasn’t really worried about it," said Rask. "We let in a goal but we didn’t look frustrated after that."
Finland struck back promptly. Selanne rushed into the Austrian zone, fed Granlund, and then went to the net to provide a screen as his 21-year-old linemate whipped home a high shot to tie the score at 5:15.
It was Granlund’s first goal as an Olympic rookie, and it was the 38th point of Selanne’s Olympic career, a modern-day record. (Soviet legend Valeri Kharlamov is second with 36 points.) The 43-year-old right wing is participating in his sixth Winter Games, tying fellow countryman Raimo Helminen’s record.
"That’s amazing," said Granlund of Selanne's prowess. "It tells you what a great player he is, that he can still play at this level. It’s just an honour to play with him."
At 9:19, the pesky Austrians took a 2-1 lead on just their third shot of the game. It was a fluky goal, with Hundertpfund circling the net and attempting a centering pass which bounced in off Maatta’s left skate.
It took just over two minutes for the Finns to make it 2-2. Jussi Jokinen sent a great centering feed to Lepisto, and he zinged it over Starkbaum’s glove.
Late in the first, Lauri Korpikoski failed to outwit Starkbaum on a partial breakaway. But the Suomi men would show their killer instinct in the final minute of the period.
At 19:25, Maatta atoned for his earlier blunder when he accepted a nice feed from Olli Jokinen, who was stationed on the side boards, and then moved to the center point for a slap shot that found the back of the net.
"He had a nice look on that goal with the slap shot," said Rask of the 19-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman, an Olympic first-timer. "He’s the complete package, although he looks like he’s 15."
Just eight seconds later, Immonen busted down the middle, fired a shot off Starkbaum, and backhanded his own rebound home for a 4-2 lead.
At 1:43 of the second period, Jussi Jokinen put the Finns up 5-2 when he got two cracks at it right in front of the net, converting another rebound. Now the game was turning into a shooting gallery.
Under siege, the Austrians called a timeout to regroup near the six-minute mark. But it had little impact. Kontiola banged home a bad-angle rebound from a Granlund shot to make it 6-2 at 12:10.
The Finns, who biked over to the arena, definitely had their legs in the second period. They outshot Austria 19-8.
"I haven’t ridden a bike too much in the last 10 years, but it’s actually really fun," said Jussi Jokinen. "We’re all enjoying it and we’re going to go everywhere quickly."
At 1:29 of the third, Grabner went hard to the net with his stick on the ice and directed a dandy pass from Brian Lebler past Rask to cut the deficit to 6-3.
Aleksander Barkov recorded his first-ever Olympic point at age 18, setting up Immonen for a close-range tap-in through Starkbaum's pads on the power play with 8:35 remaining.
With 5:38 remaining, Grabner completed his hat trick on an Austrian rush, looking off before sliding the disc between the goalie's legs.
Of Grabner, Rask said with a smile: "I said a couple of words to him in the handshake."
Granlund rounded out the scoring with another power-play tally on a high glove-side shot with 1:35 left.
"There’s some confidence right now," said Granlund. "I’m just going to try to keep going."
"We scored eight goals," said Immonen. "That's good. But we let in four goals, so we have to be better in the defensive zone."
Finland, which captured bronze in 2010, is aiming for its sixth medal in eight Olympics here in Sochi.
KHL forwards Sakari Salminen and Antti Pihlstrom sat out for Finland.
Finland maintained its perfect all-time record against Austria at the Olympics. The Finns previously won 4-3 in Sarajevo 1984 and 6-2 in Lillehammer 1994.