Atte Ohtamaa, Mikko Koivu, and Aleksander Barkov scored for Finland, and Leo Komarov had two assists. It was the first meeting between Finland and Hungary in IIHF World Championship history.
“I thought we had a pretty good game,” said Barkov. “We had a lot of chances, but they defended well and had a good goalie. He saved a lot more from going in.”
These are two teams heading in opposite directions. With their fourth straight regulation win, the Finns took over temporary possession of first place in Group B.
Newly promoted Hungary, which has lost four straight, is the only team at these Worlds with zero points. Facing the Americans next, they are in serious danger of relegation.
The Hungarians are playing in the elite division for just the third time in the last 77 years. After finishing seventh in 1939, they had to wait until 2009 to make their next appearance. They lost their first three games in St. Petersburg by a combined score of 17-4, so this was definitely Hungary’s best outing so far.
“This was a big character test for our team tonight after losing the way we did against France,” said Hungarian coach Rich Chernomaz. “One commitment we got from players tonight was to use their bodies to get in front of shots. I do have to say that the reason why Finland is one of the best teams in the world is their size, strength, and speed. Their ability to make plays in tight areas under pressure is incredible.”
Goalie Juuse Saros, who backstopped Finland to the 2014 World Junior gold medal, got his second career Worlds shutout after debuting last year in the Czech Republic with a 3-0 win over Slovakia. Remarkably, Saros, a Nashville Predators prospect who plays for the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, has never allowed a goal at the Worlds.
“Our goaltender was good today,” said Finnish coach Kari Jalonen. “He didn’t have a lot of shots, but played really well for us.”
Hungarian netminder Adam Vay, who came in halfway through the 7-1 loss to Canada, valiantly went the distance for Hungary. Shots on goal favored Finland 51-13.
The Finns get a break until Saturday, when they will take on France.
Hungary came out hard as usual, and that do-or-die mentality resulted in a scoreless first period. Dogged Hungarian checkers were right on top of their Finnish opponents.
“We felt good out there today,” said Hungary’s Balazs Sebok. “We fought for each other out there and I think it paid off.”
The Finns thought they’d scored on the power play with under five minutes to play in the first when Teemu Pulkkinen backhanded a rebound past Vay, but the referee’s whistle had already blown. Istvan Bartalis was called for high-sticking Esa Lindell earlier in the sequence, and Finland got an extended 5-on-3 man advantage, but failed to cash in.
In the second period, the Hungarians kept battling. Istvan Sofron leveled Finnish Leo Komarov with a neutral zone bodycheck, enabling captain Marton Vas to pounce on the puck and hammer a slapper at Saros.
Between the Hungarian pipes, Vay flopped, dived and kicked, doing whatever he could to keep the puck out. The towering 22-year-old Budapest native stood firm when NHL star Aleksander Barkov unleashed a lightning wrister on a left wing rush.
Ohtamaa finally broke the deadlock at 16:22. Komarov found him at the left point with a diagonal cross-ice pass, and Ohtamaa walked in and zipped one under Vay’s glove. The Finns outshot Hungary 25-3 in the middle frame.
“Vay was outstanding today,” said Jalonen. “He made us work really hard to score those three goals.”
Halfway through the third period, Finland’s Minnesota Wild connection came through to end Hungary’s hopes. Mikael Granlund set up Koivu to make it 2-0 on a 2-on-1 where Vay had no chance.
With 3:26 left, Barkov rounded out the scoring at 3-0, one-timing a sweet backhanded pass from Laine past Vay on the power play.
“[Laine] and I never had the opportunity to play together before Russia,” said Barkov. “We have chemistry, I think because we are from the same hometown [Tampere].”
Laine broke Jaromir Jagr’s 1990 tournament points record for a player aged 18 or under (3-2-5) by scoring two goals and an assist in each of his first two World Championship games against Belarus and Germany.
As in the 3-2 win over the U.S., the 18-year-old Finnish Liiga playoff MVP made several low-percentage plays that led to turnovers. But Laine also worked hard and forced the Hungarians into penalties. The learning curve continues for this great talent.