In a game that showed a marked difference to the high scoring affair between Canada and Russia that preceded it, Finland defeated the Czech Republic in a tightly played defensive struggle that saw great goaltending and solid defense at both ends of the ice. With a semifinal date with the United States on the line, these two teams proved they both deserved a chance to play for a medal. Unfortunately, there are no freebies in Olympic hockey, and only one of them would advance.
Through the first two periods, neither team was able to score, as both Tomas Vokoun and Miikka Kiprusoff turned in absolutely stellar performances. Kiprusoff made 31 saves, earning a well-deserved, if rare (unless you’re Ryan Miller), shutout in what has been a great Olympics so far. While both teams had plenty of good scoring chances, neither was able to find the back of the net until late in the 3rd period. Even then, it didn’t come without some controversy.
Pavel Kubina broke up a Finn rush with a sensational diving poke check, but lost his helmet in the process. Under Olympic rules, a skater that loses his helmet must either retrieve it or head to the bench. If he doesn’t, he will be penalized, so Kubina immediately went to the back of the net to grab his helmet. While he was doing so, Janne Niskala ripped a blast from the point that Niklas Hagman tipped in. As the announcers were quick to point out, Hagman was standing unguarded in the slot, left open by the fact that Kubina wasn’t able to protect his net.
The Czechs had a couple more golden opportunities to tie the game, including a couple shots from the injured Jaromir Jagr that were blocked by Finn defenseman Toni Lydman. The Czechs took a bit of a gamble by pulling Vokoun with nearly 2 minutes remaining, and it ended up costing them, as Valtteri Filppula put the nail in the coffin with an empty netter at 18:25.
Finland will face Team USA in the semifinals on Friday.