On Tuesday, the Finns will face also-unbeaten Canada in a showdown for first place in Group B. That day, Slovakia, which has lost four consecutive games, must beat the United States in regulation time in order to make the quarter-finals.
Mikko Koivu, Antti Pihlstrom, and Patrik Laine also scored for Finland, which outshot Slovakia 35-14 in Sunday’s rout. Laine now leads the tournament scoring race with six goals and four assists.
“I know Canada has a good team with some of the best players in this tournament,” said Pihlstrom. “We will have to be focused and play our best game.”
The Slovaks, who also lost 5-0 to Canada, have now been blanked in two straight games. They haven’t put a puck in the net since Tomas Jurco scored at 16:26 of the second period in the preceding 4-2 loss to Belarus. It’s a stunning stretch of futility for coach Zdeno Ciger’s squad, winless in its last four.
“We have to play more disciplined against the USA,” said Ciger. “We have injured players. The US team has to win also, so I am sure they will be ready.”
Amazingly, Saros has still never, ever allowed a goal at the IIHF World Championship.
The 21-year-old, who plays for the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville’s affiliate), was also in net for the 3-0 win over Hungary. At the 2015 IIHF World Championship, he recorded another 3-0 win over Slovakia. The HPK Hameenlinna native starred in Finland’s run to the 2014 World Junior gold medal.
Shutout streaks are a Finnish specialty. At last year’s Worlds, superstar Nashville Predators goalie set a modern record by not allowing a goal for 237:05 against Denmark, Norway, Slovenia, and Belarus. And Saros’s goose egg last year gave the Finns the team record for the longest tournament shutout streak as well.
The Yubileiny stands were packed with Finnish supporters keen to see their squad’s sixth straight group victory. And Finland got another three points with its high-effort, low-panic approach.
“I am really proud of the hockey team and how they are playing right now,” said Finnish coach Kari Jalonen.
In the first period, the teams delivered end-to-end, penalty-free hockey, playing the first 10:53 without a whistle. With shots 5-2 for Slovakia, chances were few, but noteworthy.
Finland’s Leo Komarov set up Mikael Granlund for a glorious backhand chance by Hudacek’s left post, and Saros made a great sprawling save with Marek Bartanus banging away at a rebound. The entire first period took just 25 minutes in real time.
At 3:22 of the second period Slovakia’s Ivan Svary took the game’s first minor for high-sticking, but Finland couldn’t capitalize despite good pressure. Then Mikko Rantanen, making his Worlds debut after captaining Finland to World Junior gold in January, served Finland’s first minor for too many men on the ice.
The Finns drew first blood on their second man advantage at 11:07. Koivu circled into the middle of the ice and sent a wrister toward the net that went in off Marko Dano’s stick.
At 11:47 it was 2-0 Finland. Tommi Sallinen sent a hard dump-in off the end boards, and Pihlstrom streaked in off left wing and popped the puck through Hudacek’s five-hole.
“It was pretty good for us to get those two goals in the second period,” said Pihlstrom. “It helped settle us down and focus on the little things.”
At 6:46 of the third, Barkov stretched Finland’s lead to 3-0, tipping Juuso Hietanen’s center point drive past Hudacek. It was similar to the goal he scored in the 3-1 win over France, but this time no lengthy video review was required.
The Finns clearly take “playing a full 60 minutes” seriously, as they scored twice in the final minute.
Jokinen got the fourth goal for Finland with 15 seconds left, taking a long breakaway pass from Hietanen and cheekily flipping the puck over the Slovak goalie.
Finally, Laine, Finland’s 18-year-old prodigy, came down right wing and beat Hudacek with a high shot at 19:57 to make it 5-0 and tie Russia’s Vadim Shipachyov (10 points) atop the scoring derby.
“It is going to be a different game against Canada,” said Sallinen. “We need to get some rest and put together our best game against Canada.”
This was the ninth straight Finnish win over Slovakia at the Worlds and 12th in 16 meetings, with three ties. The Finns have shut out Slovakia in four of the last five games. The lone Slovak win was a 5-2 decision on April 28, 2004 in the Czech Republic.