Hagman gets late goal, Finns rally to beat Czechs 2-0, earn semifinal meeting with US

By Greg Beacham, AP
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Finns rally late to beat Czechs, earn date with US

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Niklas Hagman tipped home a power-play goal with 6:26 to play to break open a scoreless game, and Finland beat the Czech Republic 2-0 Wednesday night to advance to a semifinal meeting with the top-seeded U.S. team.

Miikka Kiprusoff made 31 saves to win his duel with Tomas Vokoun, who made 29. Both goalies were flawless until Hagman got his stick on a slap shot by Janne Niskala, redirecting it just enough to miss Vokoun.

“It was an unfortunate break, but that’s hockey,” Vokoun said. “Not many pretty goals are scored here any more. It’s always going to be something like that.”

Valtteri Filppula scored an empty-net goal with 1:35 to play for the fourth-seeded Finns, the defending silver medalists, who will face the Americans on Friday for a spot in the gold medal game. It’s quite an achievement for both teams, who were on the second tier of pre-tournament medal contenders below Canada, Russia and Sweden.

“We are probably not the biggest favorites here,” Kiprusoff said. “But when you play as a team, everything is possible.”

The Americans and the Finns have met in each of the past two Olympics, with Finland winning their most recent quarterfinal in Turin.

Jaromir Jagr played through an upper-body injury but couldn’t capitalize on several golden scoring chances in what was probably his final Olympic game for the fifth-seeded Czechs, who barely reached the quarterfinals Tuesday with a perilous 2-1 overtime victory over Latvia, the lowest seed.

Both teams play a deliberate puck-possession style, which led to sharp end-to-end action but few scoring chances. Both goalies are among the tournament’s best, and neither had to make any exceptional saves during the first two scoreless periods.

“It always comes to the goaltender, whoever makes better saves,” Jagr said. “Unless you get such scoring power — nobody really has it, (except) Canada.”

Hagman scored during a power play created when Martin Erat accidentally shot the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game call, which he protested mightily. The Czechs then inexplicably pulled Vokoun with 1:45 to play while the puck wasn’t even deep in the Finnish zone, and a turnover left Filppula with plenty of time to line up his empty-net shot.

As the final seconds ticked off, Jagr sat on the bench with his head in his hands, shaking his head. He was first in the postgame handshake line after leaving his stick on the bench, and he skated off the ice with his head down, fiddling with his glove while his teammates waved to the fans at UBC Thunderbird Arena.

Finland and the Czechs finished the preliminary round with the same record, but the Finns received a bye on the strength of their goal differential despite a 3-0 loss to Sweden. Now they’ve got a date with the Americans, who haven’t lost in Vancouver.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Teemu Selanne said. “We want to play our best game that night, and whatever happens, we can live with that.”

With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in attendance, Finland played without defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who served a one-game suspension for his dangerous hit to the head of Sweden’s Patric Hornqvist on Monday. Niskala took on a larger role in his absence — and his slap shot ended up deciding the game, thanks to Hagman’s quick stick.

Jagr went to the dressing room early in the second period of the Czechs’ win over Latvia but wasn’t visibly limited by his injury against the Finns. Yet the Czechs still seemed to be feeling the effects of their ramshackle win over Latvia in the first period, taking five penalties. Finland briefly had a two-man advantage before captain Saku Koivu squelched it with another penalty.

The game was remarkably even after those initial power plays, with both teams attempting to control possession while mounting deliberate attacks. None of it worked, and they went to the third period scoreless with 21 shots apiece.

Jagr had the puck on his stick before an empty net with about 15 minutes to play when his own rebound bounded back to him, but the 38-year-old fanned on the puck, sending him back to the bench with his hand on his helmet. Captain Patrik Elias then had a point-blank chance with 10½ minutes left, but his one-timer hit the post.

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