Finnish hockey fans who'd been looking forward to this semi-final men's Olympic hockey game vs. Team USA ever since Finland eliminated the Czech Republic Wednesday night had their day ruined in a hurry. Apparently, no one told the Finns, and specifically goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, that this was a single elimination game with a berth in the gold medal game on the line.
The Finns were absolutely brutal right out of the gate, and after Miikka Kiprusoff gave up an early goal to Ryan Malone after a failed attempt to play the puck that ended up on the rugged winger's stick, the Finns just seemed to fall apart. The Malone goal was quickly followed up by back to back powerplay goals by Zach Parise and Erik Johnson, prompting a timeout by the Finns to try and settle things down.
The timeout, as it turned out, had absolutely no effect on the beleaguered Finns, and less than 2 minutes later they went down 4-0 on a goal by Patrick Kane. The 4th goal was the final straw for Miikka Kiprusoff, who seemed to pull himself out of the net before his coach could give him the official hook.
Minnesota Wild star goaltender Niklas Backstrom entered the game in relief of Kiprusoff, but didn't fare any better, allowing 2 goals 15 seconds apart to Patrick Kane and Paul Stastny. Less than 13 minutes into the Olympic semi-final hockey game the Finns found themselves facing a mind-boggling 6-0 deficit, and knew their Olympic gold medal dreams were already done.
It wasn't until the game was firmly out of reach that the Finns finally seemed to settle down and play their game. Of course, by then, it was too late. Veteran stars like Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu who almost certainly won't get another shot at gold, were forced to play for pride alone. They managed to stem the tide, and kept the situation from getting any worse, and though it may seem like wasted effort to some, it showed their character, and their dedication to the country. With an eye on the bronze medal game against the loser of tonight's Team Canada / Slovakia game the Finns did their best to build some momentum, and restore some measure of their shattered confidence.
Now, lost in the meltdown by the Finns was the incredible performance by the Americans. They knew they could not take the Finnish team lightly and came out firing on all cylinders. Obviously, never in their wildest imagination could the Americans have dreamed of having a 6-0 lead before the 13 minute mark of the first period, but they showed their incredible talent, commitment, and will to win, and were rewarded for it.
Ryan Miller, who in all likelihood will be named the tournament's top goalie, didn't have to be as spectacular as he usually does in order to post the win, but when the Finns managed to pressure him he turned away every puck that came his way, , snuffing out any distant hope of a Finnish comeback before deferring to back-up Tim Thomas.
Now, Team USA has to wait anxiously for tonight's other semi-final game to see whether or not they will face their nemesis from Canada, whom they beat last Sunday in arguably the best game of the round robin portion of the tournament, or Slovakia, who are playing relaxed and confident, and have already beaten both Russia and Sweden during their impressive Olympic run.
Regardless of which of these teams they face the Americans have given their fans and themselves plenty of confidence with their victory today, and that confidence will serve them well in the gold medal game this Sunday.