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2010 Winter Olympics Men's Hockey: Bronze Medal Finnish

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IFebruary 28, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 27:  Miikka Kiprusoff #34 of Finland celebrates with his team after defeating Slovakia to win the bronze medal in men's ice hockey on day 16 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 27, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

At one point during Saturday's bronze medal game between Team Slovakia and Team Finland, it appeared that the terrible game the latter played against Team USA was about to hurt worse than it already did.

Entering the third period, Slovakia looked to be well on their way to winning a medal for the first time in team history as they had a deceptively comfortable 3-1 lead over the Finns.

However, the long-dormant tenacity of the Finns awoke in the third period and sparked the biggest comeback of this year's Winter Olympic Games.

Recap

The first period began with the kind of muted enthusiasm one would expect from two teams that had just come off hope-shattering losses the day before.

Finland's monumental meltdown against Team USA on Friday was still a fresh and bitter defeat and Slovakia's tenacious effort against Team Canada just 24 hours prior certainly made for a tired and weary squad on Saturday.

Through the first few minutes of the first, both teams employed a "wait and see" strategy as neither did much to force the play on the other.

However, Team Finland began to buzz a bit, exhibiting the type of precision passing and gritty play they've become known for, but has been dormant for much of the tournament.

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Slovakia responded in kind and the two teams eventually started trading chances and opening up the game in search of the tilt's first goal.

Vancouver Canucks defenseman Sami Salo got exactly that while Finland was on the power play.

As Slovakian forward and Los Angeles Kings player Michael Handzus attempted to clear the puck out of the zone, he was hit solidly by Minnesota Wild captain Miko Koivu which allowed Salo to collect the loose puck and fire a laser past Team Slovakia goalie Jaroslav Halak.

With a 1-0 lead heading into the second, Team Finland played with noticeable energy as they began putting the pressure on the Slovaks with a solid forecheck.

However, at 9:56 of the middle frame, while on a power play that looked to be pretty well shut down by Finland's penalty killers, New York Ranger and Slovakian super star Marian Gaborik found a small opening in the slot and used a partial screen to rip a wrist shot past Finnish goalie Miikka Kiprusoff high on the stick side, tying the game 1-1.

At 15:38 of the second, while on a rare 4-on-3 power play, Slovakia went up 2-1 when Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa converted on a partially deflected rebound that had slid by Kiprusoff's left pad, leaving Hossa to shoot at a wide-open.

With a little more than two minutes left in the middle period, Finland was sent on a four-minute power play as the result of a high stick cutting the face of Olli Jokinen.

Approximately one minute after that, Slovakia upped their lead to 3-1 as Vancouver Canucks forward Pavol Demitra converted on a beautiful pass by Hossa while on a 2-on-1 shorthanded breakaway.

Team Finland carried the remaining power play time into the start of the third period, however, were unable to capitalize, squandering their four-minute man advantage.

Five minutes into the third, Finland found themselves on a 5-on-3 advantage but produced a tentative, disjointed effort while up two men.

However, just as the first penalty to Slovakia had expired, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen wristed a shot on goal that deflected off Calgary Flames forward Niklas Hagman and past Halak, making the score 3-2.

At 6:41 of the third, Jokinen tied the game at three apiece when he fired a wrist shot high to the stick side on an apparently unprepared Halak.

This goal began the comeback for Finland.

Infused with renewed energy, Finland returned to the power play when Hossa hauled down Niklas Hagman, who was attempting to bust out of his own zone with the puck.

With just about one minute into the power play, Jokinen scored his second goal in as many minutes on a breakaway, slipping a backhanded shot between the pads of Halak.

As they did against the Canadians, Slovakia mounted a spirited effort to tie the game at the late stages of the third.  With Halak pulled and on the power play, Slovakia had good pressure in the Finnish zone with 1:32 left in the game. 

Slovakian forward Richard Zednik lifted a shot into what he thought was an open net, however, Kiprusoff dove to his left catching the shot in the mask and thwarting Slovakia's best attempt to send the game into overtime.

The celebration for Team Finland began with 10 seconds left in the game as Detroit Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula scored into an empty net for the fifth and final goal for the Finns.

Analysis

There were a few twists to this bronze-medal winning performance by Team Finland.

First, Miikka Kiprusoff was the starter in net, a controversial move by head coach Jukka Jalonen, considering Kiprusoff's utter collapse the day before.

The Flames goalie hardly stood on his head, but did provide a solid enough effort to allow his team's offensive skills to rise.

Which bring us to another unlikely scenario: the Finns won the bronze on the strength of their scoring, not goal tending.

Finland became the first team in the 2010 Winter Olympics to win a game when trailing by two goals.

The Finns' lack of consistent scoring ability was expected to be their Achilles' Heel entering the tournament and this expectation had largely be realized as they entered the bronze medal game having scored only 13 goals through five games.

However, a solid power play (three of their goals were scored with the man advantage) and consistent forechecking through the last two periods proved to be the difference.

While Finland certainly hoped for, and honestly was capable of more than a bronze medal finish, the team has to be proud of the fact they were able to recover from a horrendous performance the day before and mount a comeback from two goals down.

These Olympic games will be the last for Finnish veterans Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu.

For two players that have played the game with such skill, respect and pride, anything less than a medal finish would have been a very disappointing way to end their Olympic careers.

Congratulations to them and Team Finland for an inspired and tenacious effort.

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