Kiprusoff sends Finns to hockey semis
Finland beats Czech Republic 2-0 to set up game against U.S.
Niklas Hagman tipped home a power-play goal with 6:26 to play to break open a scoreless game as Finland beat the Czech Republic 2-0 Wednesday night in the quarter-finals of the men's Olympic hockey tournament.
Finland will play the United States in the semifinals on Friday.
Miikka Kiprusoff made 31 saves to win a duel with Tomas Vokoun, who had 29. Both goalies were flawless until Hagman got his stick on a slapshot by Janne Niskala, redirecting it just enough to beat Vokoun.
"It was an unfortunate break, but that's hockey," Vokoun said. "Not many pretty goals are scored here anymore. It's always going to be something like that."
Valtteri Filppula added an empty-net goal with 1:35 to play for the fourth-seeded Finns. A Finland-U.S. semifinal is a remarkable achievement for both teams, who were on the second tier of pre-tournament medal contenders below Canada, Russia and Sweden.
"We are probably not the biggest favourites here," Kiprusoff said. "But when you play as a team, everything is possible."
The Americans and the Finns have met in each of the past two Olympics, with Finland winning their most recent game in the quarter-finals of the Torino Games four years ago.
Jaromir Jagr played through an upper-body injury but couldn't capitalize on several good scoring chances in what was probably his final Olympic game for the fifth-seeded Czechs, who barely reached the quarter-finals with a 2-1 overtime victory over bottom-seed Latvia on Tuesday.
"It always comes to the goaltender, whoever makes better saves," Jagr said. "Unless you get such scoring power — nobody really has it, [except] Canada."
The Czechs and Finns both play a deliberate puck-possession style, which led to sharp end-to-end action but few scoring chances. Both goalies are among the tournament's best, and neither had to make any exceptional saves during the first two scoreless periods.
Hagman scored during a power play created when Martin Erat accidentally shot the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game call, which he protested mightily. The Czechs then inexplicably pulled Vokoun with 1:45 to play while the puck wasn't even deep in the Finnish zone, and a turnover left Filppula with plenty of time to line up his empty-net shot.
As the final seconds ticked off, Jagr sat on the bench with his head in his hands, shaking his head.
The 38-year-old forward was first in the post-game handshake line after leaving his stick on the bench, and he skated off the ice with his head down, fiddling with his glove while his teammates waved to the fans at UBC Thunderbird Arena.
Finland and the Czechs finished the preliminary round with the same record, but the Finns received a bye on the strength of their goal differential.
With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in attendance, Finland played without defenceman Joni Pitkanen, who served a one-game suspension for his dangerous hit to the head of Sweden's Patric Hornqvist on Monday. Niskala took on a larger role in his absence — and his slapshot ended up deciding the game, thanks to Hagman's quick stick.
Jagr went to the dressing room early in the second period of the Czechs' win over Latvia but wasn't visibly limited by his injury against the Finns.
Yet the Czechs still seemed to be feeling the effects of their ramshackle win over Latvia in the first period, taking five penalties. Finland briefly had a two-man advantage before captain Saku Koivu squelched it with another penalty.