A game with medal-round ramifications took place Monday night between the Czech Republic and Finland in Halifax. Finland, already through to the medal round, was trying to move closer to first place while the Czech Republic was fighting for the last available spot in Group B.
The Czech Republic carried the bulk of the play through the game’s first 10 minutes, but the Finns’ playing style of hard work along the boards and fast breaking forwards brought them back into the fray.
Both goaltenders--Martin Falter for the Czechs, and Kari Lehtonen for the Finns--had to be sharp as the shots were infrequant but dangerous. Late in the first, Lehtonen, Finland’s player of the game, stoned the Czechs with a flurry of quality stops including staring down Petr Taticek and kicking his shot out with a big right pad save.
The Czechs played solid team defense against the Finnish speed game, but they could do nothing but watch as Matti Aho followed late on a play and fired a hard shot past Falter from the slot making it 1-0 Finland early in the second.
A Czech power-play midway through the period signaled the return of a now familiar tournament attraction--the Kari Lehtonen show. The Atlanta Thrashers’ 2nd overall pick showed why he’s regarded as a star prospect. The Czechs moved the puck well, feeding the pointman time and again, but Lehtonen always was properly positioned to make the save.
It took a little help from Lehtonen’s own defense for the Czechs to beat him when Jiri Hudler blasted one from outside the right faceoff circle, deflecting into the top of the net off a Finn stick.
The goal didn’t shake Lehtonen. He settled back into his net as the Finns found themselves short-handed and at the mercy of the Czechs’ pass-oriented power-play. To atone for their mistakes, Finnish defenders threw themselves in front of several Czech shots. Those shots that gdid get through, Lehtonen coralled.
Beginning the third tied 1-1, Finland came out aggressively with several near-misses including Tomi Maki ringing one shot loudly off the post. The Finn s’top line of Ruutu, Jokinen, and Juntunen also seemed to play with some life, driving to the net and coming close more than once as Falter held them at bay.
Five minutes into the third, Falter left the game after cutting himself on his chin on a goalmouth scramble. His replacement, Lukas Mensator, came into the game and the Finns took advantage. The second shot he faced was a laser beam from the high slot by Tomi Maki that blew past Mensator and gave the Finns a 2-1 lead. Falter returned to the Czech net with eight minutes remaining in the third.
The Czechs got a power play late in the third, and just as the fans began to boo a mediocre effort, Milan Michilak brought the crowd to its feet when he stuffed his power-play marker past a prone Lehtonen.
That was all either side could muster as the entertaining game ended in a 2-2 tie. The tie helps the Czech Republic in its bid for the medal round, as the Czechs need only tie Team Sweden in their game Tuesday in order to advance.
First place overall will be decided when Team Finland faces off against Canada on Tuesday in Halifax.
Third Period Summary
Second Period Summary
First Period Summary
More to come...
Finland remains the team to beat in this tournament. Sitting second in Pool B, only because they didn’t play on Sunday while Canada did, they have a 2-0 record, and have yet to play some tough games. The Czech Republic could be one of those tough teams, if they come out playing hard like they can. The Czechs are 1-1, with a tough loss to Canada and a commanding win over Germany. Finland dominated Germany in their first game of the tournament, and won a closely-fought game against Sweden.
Both teams play well-disciplined games with close checking and lots of skating. Finland will shoot at anything, while the Czechs are patient and choosy about which shots they take.
Martin Falter and Kari Lehtonen, the two starting goalies so far this tournament, are fairly evenly matched, both having faced 53 and 54 shots respectively. The game may be won or lost by the defense in front of the goalie.
In this tournament, there are plenty of players that can catch your eye. So, here are three to watch: The top scorer on the two teams, the top face-off man, and the top NHL draft pick.
The top scorer is Jussi Jokinen. Playing on a line with Tuomo Ruutu and Henrik Juntunen has given him 3 goals and 1 assist. The line, however, has a combined total of 9 points in 2 games.
Fastest off the face-off is Tuomo Ruutu. He’s won only 47 percent of the face-offs he’s taken, but being a part of the Finnish power line means that a lot of the time those face-offs have led to scoring chances.
Finland’s Kari Lehtonen made history last summer when the Atlanta Thrashers chose him second overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. He is the highest drafted European goalie ever, and is a favorite here as well.
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André Brin Director, Communications | Directeur, communications