Finland blew past Norway 6-1 in Group B play at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi thanks to a superb defensive effort and an overwhelming attack that was potent from the drop of the puck.
Each playing their second game in as many days, the countries met for the first time since 1994, which was a 4-0 result in favor of Finland. The outcome Friday was par for the course, as the Norwegians have never defeated Finland at the Olympics.
The biggest storyline of the day was apparent from the onset of the first period as the game turned into an ugly affair thanks to polar opposite performances from the starting goalkeepers.
Norway's Lars Haugen did not make it to the second period after surrendering three goals on 13 shots, two of which came from an easy distance to defend. In stark contrast to Haugen's struggles was Kari Lehtonen, who saved 20 shots and allowed one goal, which came in the third period with the game already set in stone.
Lehtonen got the nod over Tuukka Rask, who allowed four goals in an 8-4 win over Austria on Thursday. Rask admitted before the Norway game, via Adam Kimelman of NHL.com, that it was a mediocre showing despite the victory:
"We weren't ready," Finland goalie Tuukka Rask said. "They got the goal and even battled back a couple of times there. It's not a good start, but a good thing that we never let our guard down. We just kept going."
Overall, Finland simply overwhelmed with a barrage of offense throughout. Norway never found a counter or a way around the suffocating Finland defense en route to losing the shots on goal battle, 39-21.
Finland's Teemu Selanne was the star of the show as he made his return from injury after missing the final two periods of the victory over Austria. Selanne made history early in the contest, as the International Ice Hockey Federation detailed:
The 43-year-old Selanne got things started for Finland just 5:46 into the opening period with a vicious wrist shot down the center that found the back of the net.
As NHL.com's Dan Rosen pointed out, Selanne looked to be fully recovered from his injury:
The goal was the first of three in the period for Finland, as the team took advantage of Haugen's miserable showing by scoring on their very next shot, this time a far attempt by Lauri Korpikoski just 1:05 later.
The Phoenix Coyotes took to Twitter to congratulate Korpikoski on his first Olympic goal:
After a brief down period where both teams exchanged a few shots on goal, Finland struck once again from distance thanks to Jori Lehtera. It was a rather easy shot to see coming, but Haugen's woeful vision issues allowed Finland to take a 3-0 lead, the final tally through one period.
That made for 11 goals total in four periods thus far in the Games, as James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail illustrated:
With desperation already beginning to settle in, Norway yanked Haugen from the contest at the start of the second period.
Lars Volden took over between the pipes and was just as helpless in the face of the Finland assault.
On just their second shot of the period more than five minutes in, Finland took a 4-0 lead after Korpikoski found the back of the net for the second time.
The period could not end soon enough for Volden. Just a few shots later after a little more than three minutes bled off the clock, it was Olli Jokinen who sneaked the puck past Volden after an assist from Tuomo Ruutu to make it a five-goal differential.
For those counting, that made it 13 goals in less than five periods for Finland, which could turn up huge in tiebreakers, as Scott McLaughlin of WEEI pointed out:
Things picked back up in the third period, where it finally happened—Norway broke free of its goose egg via a 5-on-3 power-play goal by Per-Age Skroder, who got an assist from Mathis Olimb.
Finland would respond with a little more than two minutes left in the game. With the win assured, the Norway defense surrendered a three-on-two situation deep. Olli Maatta of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins slapped the puck home off an assist from Lehtonen and Petri Kontiola—the latter in particular capped off quite the performance as Mark Stepneski of the Dallas Stars' website illustrated:
With the lopsided result official, the epic stage to determine the winner of Group B is set for Sunday. Finland and Canada have clearly run away with the table after two games, but the former gets the lead thanks to the ever-important goal differential:
|Men's Hockey Group B Standings|
Canada also enters the preliminary-round finale undefeated, and the winner will receive an automatic bye.
The Canadians are tasked with bringing yet another strong defensive performance to the table to advance, while Finland has to somehow decide which goalie to start considering the position is four-deep with quality talent.
Canada may be the defending champs, but Finland is the only country to win three medals since NHL players joined the Olympics in 1998.
For Norway, things are a bit more complicated as a showdown with Austria will have a major impact on the seeding in the quarterfinal round. Norway has the inverse problem that Finland faces, with nothing in front of the net seeming to work.
Regardless, both matchups seem to be evenly matched in their own right.