Americans crush Finland to reach men’s hockey final

 

 
 
 

VANCOUVER — Miikka Kiprusoff should have signalled for the fair catch.

He didn’t. He played the punt, er, dump in, handed it to Ryan Malone and the USA was off to the races —_and the gold medal final.

The Americans came to praise Finland, but wound up burying them 6-1 thanks to a first-period avalanche that had tones of Canada’s first-period blitzkrieg of Russia in the quarter-finals.

Who says only the women play lopsided Olympic tournament games?

It might have, should have, been different. Believe it or not, the Finns opened the game with such complete puck control in the U.S. zone, it looked like a power play, except it was five-on-five, white and sky-blue Suomi shirts flitting around American goaltender Ryan Miller.

On a dime, the game turned at the two-minute mark as Kiprusoff, the Finnish goaltender, outraced Phil Kessel to a puck halfway to the Finnish blue-line, and inexplicably shovelled it right to Ryan Malone for the easy empty-netter (don’t those usually happen in the final minutes?)

“I thought our ‘D’ (defence) was coming,” Kiprusoff said. “It kind of opened up. I didn’t take a second look. I put the puck right there, tape to tape.”

What was Malone thinking?

“Make sure I put it in the middle of the net.”

Kiprusoff hung his head, the Finnish bench sagged, and do did the proverbial roof, before caving in entirely. At the halfway mark of the first, the U.S. had a 4-0 lead. Game over.

“We had a chance to be in the final, it sucks,” said legendary Finnish winger Teemu Selanne.

If this is Selanne’s Olympic swan song, what a horrible note on which to leave. Selanne broke the career Olympic points record in this tournament. It could be farewell as well for fellow Finnish veterans Saku Koivu and Jere Lehtinen.

“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” Selanne said. “We sucked. Very disappointing — we didn’t even compete. It’s 2-0, they get a couple of lucky bounces, it’s 4-0, 6-0 . . . at that point, we’d rather play curling.”

After seven shots, Kiprusoff had surrendered four goals. Backup Niklas Backstrom came in and promptly gave up two more — six U.S. goals inside of 13 minutes of play in the first Olympic semi of the day. Patrick Kane scored two for the frolicking Americans. Zach Parise, Erik Johnson and Paul Stastny, on a high shot to complete a nifty passing sequence, had the others in the first period.

Kiprusoff’s performance made a mockery of the pre-game statistics that had him leading all tournament goaltenders in save percentage. Perhaps the hockey gods were out to get Kipper for telling Finland he wouldn’t come to Vancouver unless he was the starting goalie. He started, all right. But didn’t finish.

Miller didn’t finish either, for entirely different reasons. In a classy move by the U.S. coaching staff, backup Tim Thomas replaced Miller with little more than half the third period remaining. It has been Thomas’ life long dream to play in an Olympics, and with Miller playing every minute of every game, time was slipping on the dream — at 35, this is Thomas’ one and only shot at an Olympic appearance.

After stopping all 18 shots he faced, Miller enjoyed sitting on the bench for the final 10 minutes, though he admitted the view the from crease was equally fine.

“I got to watch most of it,” he said of the lopsided game.

Antii Miettinen beat Thomas for Finland’s only goal, with 5:14 remaining. The puck deflected off the foot of U.S. defenceman Jack Johnson and Thomas had no chance on it.

So, the Finns broke the shutout but didn’t escape national embarrassment.

“It’s not so easy to forget,” said Finnish head coach Jukka Jalonen.

Crying shame about the Finns, but how about those Yankee doodle dandies, parlaying general manager Brian Burke’s ‘little-ol’-us’-underdogs role into five straight wins in this tournament and a place in Sunday’s finale. They will play the underdog card right to the end.

“Would you take us in the gold medal game?” asked U.S. forward Ryan Kesler rhetorically. “I don’t think so.”

The Finns meanwhile, will try to regroup for Saturday’s bronze game. One of their leaders will probably remind them they have won four Olympic medals since 1988, all silver or bronze. A fifth might look good — a few months from now, when the pain of this stinker subsides.

 
 
 
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