Finnish starting goalie Mikko Koskinen earned his third straight three-point win against the U.S.’s Mike Condon.
“We were a little tighter, knowing they were going to be sitting back in the neutral zone and the skill they have up front,” said Murphy. “We didn’t really take care of things well in big spots and took penalties at the end of the game. We gave them some great chances and they have players who have been playing together for years on these national teams.”
Fans came anticipating a showdown of apocalyptic proportions between the U.S.’s Auston Matthews and Finland’s Patrik Laine, who are vying for the honor of being selected first overall in June’s NHL Draft. These two teenagers in men’s bodies have size, strength, and skills that rival those of NHLers 10 years their senior.
“Patrik is a really good two-way player who makes smart decisions with the puck,” said Finnish assistant captain Jussi Jokinen. “You see it the way he is playing here.”
The centre from Arizona and the winger from Tampere took their first shift against each other just 1:21 in. They would go head-to-head on multiple occasions. Both were good, if not otherworldly. In the end, Matthews got a point and made fewer errors, but Laine made things happen and got the win.
“It would have been nice to get a win tonight but that is how it goes,” said Matthews.
“Every team here wants to win,” said Laine. “We have to keep going and playing our game, and I think anything is possible. But we have to keep working.”
Buoyed by the partisan blue-and-white crowd’s chants of “Suomi!”, the two sides got off to a high-paced start at Yubileiny.
The Finns drew first blood at 9:16 with their Minnesota Wild connection. Mikael Granlund capitalized on a U.S. turnover behind the goal line and sent a deft backhand pass to Koivu, who fired it past Condon high to the glove side.
Laine made his presence felt against U.S. captain Matt Hendricks midway through the first, knocking off Hendricks’ helmet with a big hit in front of the U.S. bench
Pihlstrom made it 2-0 Finland at 12:04, taking a nice pass from Teemu Pulkkinen on the rush and beating Condon over the glove from the left faceoff circle. The shot placement was almost identical to Koivu’s.
The Finns were dancing now, with Granlund drawing cheers as he befuddled U.S. defenders with his clever stickhandling deep in the offensive zone.
Yet the U.S. cut the deficit to 2-1 at 13:45 on a play involving the two top draft prospects. Laine turned the puck over inside the American blue line, and Matthews got it to Vatrano. The stocky Boston Bruins forward zoomed down left wing and surprised Koskinen with a slapper.
When Nick Foligno was sent off for slashing with under two minutes left in the first, Laine got two great power play chances with his patented howitzers from the left faceoff circle. But both times Condon stopped him with his left arm.
In the second period, Laine set up Jussi Jokinen for a promising dash down right wing, and then Matthews came right back and kicked off a nifty passing play inside the Finnish zone.
Mid-period, Koivu had a superb chance for his second of the game on a 4-on-4 solo break, but Condon denied him on the slapper.
The Americans got a late-period man advantage when Laine was sent to the sin bin for hooking on defenceman David Warsofsky while forechecking aggressively. Matthews generated a couple of good but fruitless chances. The second period finished much like the first did – with Laine sparking a Finnish shooting gallery – but with no goals.
Just 53 seconds into the third, the U.S. got the 2-2 equalizer. Patrick Maroon’s dogged work behind the net led to a nice centering pass to Murphy, and his quick, high release eluded Koskinen.
On a broken play, Finland regained the lead at 4:16 with the man advantage. Komarov tried to center the puck from the goal line, but Condon got his stick on it, and Aleksander Barkov simply passed it right back to Komarov to bang in the open side.
As the clock counted down, the Finnish checking tightened up, with Komarov doggedly setting the tone in every zone. The Americans pulled Condon for the extra attacker with 1:12 remaining. Matthews played the point, but there would be no more points for him this night.
“We weren’t able to get too many scoring chances and that cost us throughout the game,” said Matthews.
Historically, the Finns have enjoyed a slight advantage over the U.S. at the IIHF World Championship. But this was their first win in five tries. They last beat the U.S. 3-2 in the quarter-finals on May 17, 2012.