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Once again, Finns ‘find a way’ to achieve Olympic success

Feb 19, 2014, 10:44 AM EDT

SelanneGranlund Getty Images

Since NHLers began Olympic participation in 1998, only one country has medaled three times.

It’s not Canada, it’s not the U.S., it’s not Sweden and it’s not Russia.

It’s Finland.

On Wednesday, the Finns made a push for a fourth, defeating Russia 3-1 to set up a semifinal date with arch rivals Sweden. In typical fashion, Finland beat the Russians with strengths exhibited in previous Olympics — strong goaltending, smart play and tireless work ethic.

“Even though no one ever picks us to win medals we always seem to find a way to get there,” Tuukka Rask said after the game, per Sportsnet.

VIDEO: Highlights from Finland’s 3-1 win

Rask has been phenomenal over the last two contests, reminiscent of the performance Antero Niittymakki put up at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, when he backstopped the Finns to silver and won tournament MVP. Rask stopped 37 of 38 Russian shots on Wednesday, this coming after he made 25 saves in a 2-1 OT loss to Canada in the final group game.

“We gave it everything,” said a dismayed Pavel Datsyuk. “We can’t score today.”

Rask’s been a major part of Finland’s success, though hardly the only part. Mikael Granlund, the 21-year-old Minnesota center, has played extremely well and leads the team with five points. His effort against Russia — setting up Teemu Selanne‘s game-winning goal, then scoring the insurance marker — was impressive, even more so considering Granlund was forced into a larger role after injuries befell the likes of Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula and Aleksander Barkov.

Granlund’s shown the type of resiliency that extended across the Finnish team. To steal some football parlance, the “next man up” philosophy rang true with the players — Jarko Immonen, one of the replacements for Koivu and Filppula, played nearly 15 minutes against the Russians on Wednesday, winning 55 percent of his draws. Petri Kontiola, a 29-year-old KHLer, won eight of nine faceoffs, registered an assist and played over 17 minutes, finishing plus-2.

It’s the kind of mentality assistant GM Jarmo Kekalainen described prior to the Games getting underway.

“It’ll be all about team. That’s our strength and we love to be the underdog,” he explained. “We’re going to bite everybody’s ankles and not let go — that’s the only way we’re going to be successful.”

Despite that colorful explanation and its history of Olympic success, few picked Finland to medal in Sochi, and even fewer gave the Finns a shot after injuries hit.

No problem, according to Selanne.

“You know that nobody ever believed that we could win, but it doesn’t matter,” he said, per TSN 1050. The experts are wrong many times.”

  1. jpelle82 - Feb 19, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    aside from the injury situation this time around, i dont know why anyone would ever count them out of any tournament. i didnt think they had to “find a way” this time either, they looked pretty dominant. had a plan and executed it well against russia and even canada too in a loss. after watching them against canada i had no doubt they would win this one…

    • c9castine - Feb 19, 2014 at 11:38 AM

      i certainly didn’t. i admit i had them and sweden in the 4th and 5th spots coming into the tournament, but only because they are both banged up on offense.

      they have a good young team with a couple vets, they always play disciplined and smart defensive hockey, they had the best goaltending on paper coming in, and they have good puck skills.

      russia i knew would at most get bronze they just don’t have the defense or the cohesion on offense to get the job one. for every malkin and datsyuk on that team there are 3 radulovs and nikitins

  2. shaundre93 - Feb 19, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    I love Kekalainens description of the team, it really was spot on. The more I hear this guy speak about hockey, and the more personnel decisions he makes both at these Olympics and with the CBJ, the more I realize this guy is gonna be a brilliant GM. He knows what it takes to win. Sweden better watch out, they haven’t exactly been dynamite this tourney despite their record. Great win for Finland, GO TUUKKA!!

    • c9castine - Feb 19, 2014 at 11:40 AM

      sweden has been squeaking by don’t care what the scores of the games has been.

      i watched the first half of that game against slovenia and slovenia at times had them bottle up and were beating them to a lot of loose pucks. if slovenia had a few players of talent like sweden has, that game would have been flipped on the scoreboard.

  3. lowenni - Feb 19, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    This year’s version of the 2010 U.S. men’s team. Not too many big names, but savvy veterans, team first approach, and most importantly, fantastic goaltending.

  4. strictlythedanks - Feb 19, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    go granny go go go go

  5. vm113 - Feb 19, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    “Even though no one ever picks us to win medals we always seem to find a way to get there,” Tuukka Rask——–You haven’t won jack shyt yet. I guess beating Russia is their gold medal.

    • trick9 - Feb 20, 2014 at 4:58 AM

      He’s talking about past and present, not future.

      Jackass.

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