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Finns overcome Slovaks

Three third-period goals seal Finnish victory

Published 30.12.2017 19:06 GMT-5 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Finns overcome Slovaks
BUFFALO, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 30: Finland's Jere Innala #33 skates with the puck whlie Slovakia's Filip Krivosik #16 chases him down during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Aleksi Heponiemi got the third-period winner as Finland temporarily passed the U.S. for second place in Group A with a hard-working 5-2 win over Slovakia.

Markus Nurmi added a goal and an assist, and Joona Koppanen, Aapeli Rasanen and Henri Ikonen also scored for Finland. Martin Bodak and Samuel Bucek replied for Slovakia.

"Even though we are kind of the bigger country in hockey, Slovakia is a good team too," said Finland's Olli Juolevi. "They were a tough opponent for us today. I’m happy we got the win."

Finland and the U.S. will face off in a likely showdown for second place in the group on New Year’s Eve. Finland has won two straight since dropping its Boxing Day opener to Canada.

"After the Canada game, we've improved our play and have the two wins," said Finnish goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. "Of course, we could have been better against Canada, but we can't do anything about that now. We have to get ready now for tomorrow and play well against the U.S."

Could the Slovaks maintain the extraordinary focus and emotional level they reached in their 3-2 win over the defending champion Americans? Heading into this game, that was the question on everyone's mind. Slovak goalie Roman Durny got his second straight start after his upset debut, and he was busy as Finland outshot Slovakia 39-26.

"We have already put the U.S. game behind us," said Slovakia's Filip Krivosik. "Today was a new day. We wanted to take at least one point from today's game to make sure we got into the playoffs, but we didn't do that."

The Slovaks will face Denmark in a crucial battle on New Year's Eve.

In a scoreless, evenly played first period, there were several close calls. Finnish defenceman Kasper Kotkansalo saved a goal by pulling the puck off the goal line, and also rang a howitzer off the post.

Forechecking diligently, the Finns outshot Slovakia 18-5 to dominate the second period. They opened the scoring at 7:45 when Juha Jaaska fed Koppanen cross-crease for his second goal of the tournament.

"I liked Joona Koppanen’s game today," said Finnish coach Jussi Ahokas. "Penalty kill and otherwise, he played the way we want."

However, after killing two penalties in the first period, the Finns didn’t take the initiative with their own first two man advantages in the second period.

The Slovaks fought back on the rush. Forward Alex Tamasi found Bodak coming late down the middle, and the big captain sent it through Luukkonen's pads at 14:14.

When Slovakia’s Tomas Hedera put the puck over the glass and was penalized for delay of game, Finland finally got a huge power play goal with just 58 seconds left in the middle frame. Juolevi stepped into the left faceoff circle and sent a hard pass in front for Rasanen to tip in.

"I had a lot of time," said Juolevi. "It was a good pass from Eeli Tolvanen to me. We talk a lot about the power play. We haven’t really been that good on the power play this year here. But I think it’s getting better."

At 6:23 of the third, Heponiemi put Finland up 3-1. The star of the WHL's Swift Current Broncos stormed to the net and Janne Kuokkanen's pass deflected first off his backhand and then his skate into the net. After a review, it was concluded that no deliberate kicking motion was used, and the goal stood.

With a never-say-die attitude, Bucek, who scored the spectacular solo winner versus the Americans, corraled a bouncing puck to lift it past Luukkonen's glove and make it 3-2 at 9:03.

Yet Slovakia's joy was short-lived. The Finns restored their two-goal lead off an unusual play. At 12:36, Ikonen was credited with a goal directly off a faceoff in the Slovak end, with Durny looking stunned as the puck slid through his pads. Slovak forward Adam Ruzicka, who won the draw a little too forcefully, did not intend that to happen.

"It was a different goal, that's for sure," said Ikonen. "I just lost the face-off, but it was really lucky that it went in. A goal is a goal."

"That was probably the first time I’ve ever seen that in my career," said Juolevi.

Nurmi made it 5-2 Finland at 14:01 when he was allowed to step off the goal line unobstructed and ding a backhander off Durny's right post.

"We need to forget about this game and have a good sleep and get ready for tomorrow," said Krivosik.

With the result, Finland’s all-time World Junior record against Slovakia improved to nine wins, one tie, and four losses.

Legendary Finnish agitator and five-time Stanley Cup champion Esa Tikkanen was among the ex-NHLers in attendance.

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