Saturday, May 19, 2012
While some NHL-centric hockey fans deride the World Championships for it's often early lopsided scores and the fact many star players are still busy with their NHL seasons, the tournament inevitably provides some amazing games, with Thursday's 2012 World Championships Quarterfinals being exhibit #1.
Why is this bird so angry? He's at a hockey game!
The day started out bright and early in North America with Canada and Slovakia facing off at 6 AM eastern time. Canada, considered a clear favorite based on it's higher ranking internationally, having already defeated Slovakia 3-2 in their opening game of the tournament, and having won Group H.
That assumption was called into question when Slovakia opened the scoring when Tomas Kopecky converted at 5:57 of the opening period and captain Miroslav Satan stomped that notion into dust with the second Slovak goal before the period was even half over. Canada recovered with an Evander Kane goal at 16:14 from Ryan Getzlaf at 16:14.
Canada looked to be back in control with second period goals from Jeff Skinner and Alex Burrows to give the Canadians confidence heading into the third period of their elimination game.
If Canada thought they were going to shut down Slovakia, that plan went awry when Milan Bartovic evened the game, setting up a dramatic rest of the period. Canada outshot Slovakia 13-11, but the game turned when Getzlaf was whistled for a major penalty for kneeing Juraj Mikus at 57:28 as well as being ejected from the game.
With the extra man, Slovakia wasted no time in scoring when Michal Handzus fired one by Cam Ward just four seconds after the penalty call to put his team up 4-3 with only 2:28 remaining, but Slovakia remaining on the power play following Getzlaf's major for the rest of the game. Canada pulled Ward for a chance at 5-on-5 play, but, despite some real effort and pressure, could not get the equalizer and Slovakia held on to win and advance to today's Semifinals in Helsinki.
Following that dramatic turn of events, heavily favored Russia took to the ice against this year's darlings of the tournament, Norway, who came into the game with a four game winning streak. If anyone expected Russia to steamroll the Norwegians, they too were in for a surprise, as the first Russian goal from Alexander Ovechkin was answered by Per-Åge Skrøder for Norway.
While the period ended 2-1 in favor of Russia, following a goal by Alexander Popov at 14:09, the Norwegians let it be known they were not going to be taken lightly when the tournament's leading scorer Patrick Thoresen netted his 7th goal and 18th point just 28 seconds into the second period on a power play which had carried over from the first.
Despite being outshot 29-13 up to this point, the second intermission arrived with the game still tied at 2-2, giving the Russians a reason for concern.
The depth of the Russians prevailed in the third period, beginning with a goal by Alexei Yemelin just under a minute into the third. Nikoali Zherdev tilted the ice even more in favor of the Russians to make it 4-2 at 10:43 and a power play goal by Ilya Nikulin sealed the fate of Norway at 14:52, but the fans in Stockholm certainly knew they were there. Despite being eliminated, Norway's good show of form elevated them into a guaranteed spot for the 2014 Olympic hockey tournament as they rose into the top nine.
The afternoon game was a rematch of the United States 5-0 pasting of Finland just days earlier, but this was a different affair, as the first period ended scoreless despite the USA outshooting Finland 10-7.
The Finns scored first 3:27 into the second in their tight battle with the Americans. The US responded just 21 seconds later when Kyle Palmieri scored to tie the game once again.
The US went ahead at 1:39 of the third on Bobby Ryan's goal, but no one thought that would be the final goal of the contest. While it would take until 13:02 for the next goal to arrive, it did arrive for Finland when Mikko Koivu, Finland's captain, got one past Jimmy Howard while Jack Johnson was trying to defend him without a stick.
Just as the game looked to be going to overtime, Petri Kontiola centered the puck from behind the American goal to Jesse Joensuu, who buried the puck with only nine seconds remaining in the game to send the home fans into a frenzy and win the game for Finland, keeping them on track to become the first host to win the World Championship since the Soviet Union back in 1986.
After three great games, we were due for a letdown in the night's final game between favored Sweden (6-0-1) and the Czech Republic, who had lost two games, including a 4-1 loss earlier to Sweden.
Sweden got the game off to the expected start with a Loui Eriksson goal at 7:10, only to have the Czechs respond with a goal by Petr Nedved, playing in his first World Championships at the age of 40! Then, Jan Novotny's goal at 16:56 put the Czechs ahead and put Sweden on notice they were in for a game.
The second period made it just past the half way point when Martin Erat put the Czechs up by two at 10:27. That lead lasted nearly through the end of the period when Henrik Zetterberg's great individual effort pulled Sweden back to within one with just 45 seconds remaining.
Jonathan Ericsson wasted little time evening the score 45 seconds into the third period (effectively giving Sweden two goals in a minute and a half) setting up yet another tight run to the finish line for the third time on the day. It was an evenly played period, with the shots favoring Sweden 10-9. Sweden killed off the only penalty of the period and again, the game looked to be headed for an overtime until Milan Michaek took the game into his own hands, fighting off Niklas Persson in the corner with one arm and reaching up to poke the puck away from Niklas Kronwall with the other. He then broke free, skated in on goaltender Viktor Fasth and put a tight shot up and over Fasth's shoulder and into the roof of the net with just 29 seconds left in the game to put the Czech Republic into the Semifinals in dramatic fashion, capping an amazing day of close games and surprising finishes.
The Semifinals are being held today, with first Russia facing off against the host Finland followed by the Czech Republic taking on their rivals from Slovakia in the second game with the losers of today's games meeting on Sunday for the bronze medal followed by the winners in the gold medal game later on.
In Canada, TSN will have the first Semifinal live at 7:15 AM eastern, followed by the second at 11:15 AM. Sunday they will have the Bronze Medal Game at 8:45 AM and the Gold Medal Game at 1:15 PM.
The United States will only get one of the semifinals, which will be shown on NBC Sports on a tape delay at 9 PM eastern time and the Gold Medal Final airing Sunday night, also at 9 PM. Die-hard fans in the US who wish to watch the games live can always try to find them shown online.