Wanting Team Canada to improve game by game at the world hockey championship, coach Dave Tippett thought the quarter-final effort against Finland was the best yet.
It was also the last, as a couple of third-period mistakes led to a 3-2 loss Thursday at Chizhovka Arena and Canada's elimination from the tournament.
"I use a phrase all the time that every play counts," Tippett said. "Every play counts and unfortunately we had a couple go against us."
The play that counted the most for Canada was a turnover by defenceman Tyler Myers, who tried to pass it off the wall to Kyle Turris. Jori Lehtera got in the way, setting up Iiro Pakarinen for the game-winner with just 3:08 left.
A downtrodden Myers said everyone saw what happened and didn't feel he needed to explain. Turris, who scored Canada's first goal, took the blame.
"I was yelling at him, 'I'm open in the middle, I'm open in the middle,' and when he passed to the middle, the guy stepped in between," Turris said. "It was my fault. I was yelling at him to move it to me, and the guy stepped in the way and went the other way. I should have had it."
It was a game that Canada felt it should have had. Holding a 2-1 lead after two periods on goals by Turris and Mark Scheifele, the Canadians were in control despite a strong game from Finnish goaltender Pekka Rinne.
One bad bounce 28 seconds into the third changed everything. Finland's Juuso Hietanen let a slapshot fly that hit Ben Scrivens's right arm, the back of his blocker, and then the shaft of his stick before trickling over the goal-line.
"It's a terrible goal to give up," said Scrivens, who stopped 23 of the 26 shots he faced. "It's deflating for the team. That's squarely on me. It's really tough to swallow right now."
This was the fifth straight year Canada lost in the quarter-finals at this tournament.
Making it more difficult to accept was that this squad of NHL third-liners and potential stars of the future bounced back perfectly from an opening shootout loss to France. Six straight victories followed.
The Finland game easily could have been one, too.
"We still had our shifts in their end, our chances," captain Kevin Bieksa said. "We had a couple breakdowns. We knew going into this game that the Finns were a team that would sit back and capitalize on our mistakes, and they made us pay tonight."
Tippett addressed his players after the loss but couldn't offer much in the way of an uplifting sentiment.
"It's a tough situation for everybody," Tippett said. "It's not the result you want. We came here to win, we didn't come here to lose in the quarter-finals. There's not much to say. We didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish."
All because of a few bad breaks. Finland's first goal 6:06 in, which came on the power play with Myers in the box for roughing, happened after an attempted point shot deflected off penalty-killer Joel Ward's stick and right to Olli Palola for his third of the tournament.
Barrage of shots
That didn't deflate Canada, which kept putting pucks on Rinne, who finished with 36 saves on 38 shots. The attempts came from everywhere and almost everyone, as 17 of 20 skaters had at least one on net.
"I thought we played some really good hockey throughout the whole game," Myers said. "I think we were right there. It was our game to lose. It's never a good feeling to have it happen like that."
One problem was going 0-for-5 on the power play. Had Canada buried a couple of those chances, like Brayden Schenn's shot very early that hit the crossbar, it would have been a very different game.
Canada's players and Tippett were quick to credit the Finns, who played their brand of hockey well and pounced on mistakes.
"We worked extremely hard [for] 60 minutes," Hietanen said. "We knew that we were going to get our chances and now we scored a couple goals."
Finland coach Erkka Westerlund was proud of how his team responded and came back from the 2-1 deficit.
"In [the] third period we showed the mental strength," Westerlund said. "We call it in Finland 'sisu."'
The third period was Canada's weakest of the game.
"It's frustrating. I thought we had a great first two periods, we were outshooting them badly, had great opportunities," Turris said. "If we played the way we did in the first two to finish the game, I think we would have come out with a better outcome."
'Never fun losing'
Instead, Scrivens lamented Finland's goaltending being better than his and not holding up his end of the bargain to teammates. And Myers was left with the same feelings he had much of this NHL season with the Buffalo Sabres.
"It's never fun losing," Myers said. "I did too much of that this year."
This wasn't a loss that had Canada's players wondering about their overall play. But that was no consolation.
"It's just the way it is," Tippett said. "We played a good game tonight. Unfortunately, we lost."
Elsewhere Thursday, Russia and the Czech Republic advanced to Saturday's semifinals.
The Czechs, who will play Finland, scored three second-period, power-play goals in beating the United States 4-3.
Tomas Rolinek answered Brock Nelson's power-play goal in the opening period and Tomas Hertl, Roman Cervenka and Ondrej Nemec all beat veteran goaltender Tim Thomas on power plays in less than 10 minutes in the middle period.
U.S. captain Justin Abdelkader received a five-minute penalty and was ejected from the game for a big hit on forward Vladimir Sobotka.
Tyler Johnson scored twice to reduce the deficit in the third but the U.S., bronze medallists last year, came up short.