It was Finnish young guns versus Sweden’s solid defence, and it didn’t turned out to be similar fireworks of scoring as Finland’s game against Canada. But it was a thriller all the same, and in the end, Finns came out on top thanks to two second-period goal, 2-1.
Kasperi Kapanen and team captain Mikko Rantanen collected two assists each for Finland. Antti Kalapudas scored the game-winner. Kaapo Kahkonen made 21 saves for Finland.
"It was a close game, but I think we deserved to win," Kapanen said.
"This was our best game in the tournament," added Rantanen who had two points in the first five games of the tournament.
"Mikko [Rantanen] has been a big part of our team in the tournament, he's a great leader, and it was nice to see him get rewarded for his work on the ice," said Sebastian Aho.
"It's my other family in there [in the dressing room], and to let in two goals in this game is a failure," Soderstrom said.
"We knew we needed a goal at the end, and everybody battled like dogs, but we couldn't tie it. Power play was the key, they scored their first one right after their power play, and the other one was a power-play goal," said Dmytro Timashov.
Any way you slice it, the Finland versus Sweden games always come down to one word: rivalry. The rivalry cuts through all aspects all life, not just hockey, but hockey is a great way to measure its intensity level. Even if the players on these teams didn’t feel the weight of a nation on their shoulders, they also knew each other well, having played against each other several times over the years.
Most people, including the players, expected the crowd to be even louder than in the previous games in the tournament, but with full sections filled with disappointed Canadians, the arena was quieter than one might have predicted, but as the Finns scored their goals, the atmosphere got more livid.
"It's unbelievable that the arena is sold out on a Monday, when the puck drops at 4pm," Kapanen said.
"I guess people figured out ways to get out of work," he added with a chuckle.
Maybe the lack of wild Finland support helped the Swedes take control of the game early on in the game. Especially the line with Alex Nylander and Dmytro Timashov and Rasmus Asplund was a threat every time they stepped on the ice.
Halfway through the first period, Timashov picked up the puck in the Swedish zone, carried it full 60 metres deep into the Finnish zone. Finnish defenceman Joni Tuulola missed a footing and fell which opened an opportunity to Timashov to take a few strides towards the Finnish net, and find Asplund at the backdoor where he had an easy job to beat Kaapo Kahkonen in Finland’s goal and give Sweden the lead in the game at 10:17.
"I was trying to drive to the net, but when I then saw [Asplund] in front of the net, it was an easy decision to get him the puck," Timashov said.
Early in the second period, Sweden got into some penalty trouble taking two minor penalties in the first nine minutes of the period. While the Finns feared top line with Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho, and Jesse Puljujarvi couldn’t convert their chances, just as Adrian Kempe got back onto the ice, Mikko Rantanen found Roope Hintz in front of Soderstrom, and he tied the game at 11:08 into the second period.
"Once again, we were down by a goal in the game, but rallied back and won it. I think that says everything about the character of this team," said Finnish forward Sebastian Aho.
Two minutes later, Finland got another power-play opportunity. Again, the Swedish penalty kill could shut down Finland’s top unit, but tonight, the Finns got secondary scoring from other lines. Rantanen grabbed the puck behind Sweden’s goal, found Antti Kalapudas at the faceoff dot and he fired a low wrist shot that beat Soderstrom at the far post and the Swedes found themselves in an unfamiliar situation. It was the first time they were trailing in the tournament.
And they never recovered. Sweden couldn't create a big push even late in the game. Also, Andreas Englund's holding minor with three minutes remaining spoiled any plans that coach Rikard Gronborg may have had.
"The penalty kill drained our energy," said Timashov.
Sweden will play for bronze medals, like last year, while Finnish fans can look forward to a World Junior Championship final tomorrow.