With a semifinal meeting against the USA at stake, Sweden upset Finland 4-2 in Sochi’s Shayba Arena.
Sport: Women’s Hockey
Event: Finland vs. Sweden
What happened: Familiar foes Finland and Sweden faced off in Sochi Saturday in the first of two quarterfinals on the docket. A fast-paced first period failed to create many true scoring chances despite a power play for the Finns. Each team had put four shots on net when Finnish speedster Michelle Karvinen came streaking down the right side before cutting in and ringing a shot off the crossbar. Sweden scrambled for a few moments following that chance and ‘keeper Valentina Wallner stood tall against the mini-barrage. Finland found a bit of life after that though not the net and the period ended scoreless. Shots were 12-6 in favor of the Finns.
Part of Sweden’s lack of offensive opportunities stemmed from their willingness to launch shots from the blue line rather than get the puck low and create chances in close. That’s no way to beat Noora Raty, widely considered the best goalie in the women’s game.
At 5:22 Wallner went coast-to-coast to spectacularly stuff an open shot by the Finns’ 17-year old Emma Nuutinen. Wallner’s steadiness anchored the Swedes who responded with more jump and a better attack. Halfway through the second they had outshot Finland, but most of those shots went to Raty’s glove to die.
Finland broke through first at 13:16 of the second. Steaming down the ice, Linda Valimaki rocketed a shot off Wallner’s blocker. Sweden had numbers back but the Finns crashed the net and Niagara University forward Venia Hovi collected a big rebound to beat Wallner high stick side.
Finland followed up with a power play after Cecilia Ostberg took a slashing call while in the offensive zone. Soon after that penalty ended, some extra-curricular activities led to roughing double-minors on Erika Grahm and Minttu Touminen. The teams were still skating 5-on-5 when Hovi took a holding penalty to give Sweden its second power play of the game with :40 left. The period ended without further scoring and Sweden could look forward to a fresh sheet of ice and 1:40 of power play time to start the third. The Swedes outshot Finland 13-11 in the second.
And Sweden would capitalize just :46 into the 3rd. Emma Nordin boomed a shot from the point that was well saved by Raty, who pushed the rebound out wide to her left. That’s right where Anna Borgqvist was standing and she one-timed a low shot that may have been tipped over Raty’s pad by a diving Lina Backlin. Regardless, the score was now tied at 1-1.
Raty would be called upon again minutes later, slamming the door on a breakaway by Grahm but even that stellar stop wouldn’t keep the Swedes from taking the lead. Buzzing in the right corner, Pernilla Winberg shook off her defender and hit Lina Wester in the slot. The lefty wristed the puck stick side on Raty to take the lead 2-1 at 5:09.
Just 12 seconds later Finland grabbed an equalizer of their own, 2-2. From behind the net Karoliina Rantamaki found Nuutinen all alone in the slot and the youngster beat Wallner with a slick shot across her body.
Sweden got a power play late in the third and took the lead just seconds into it. With Emma Terho in the box for a trip, Emma Eliasson bashed a slapper that beat Raty clean, though it had to get through a four-man screen to get there. The goal put the Swedes ahead 3-2 with 4:13 to play.
Finland wisely took their time out and emerged a desperate team. Wallner spent the last few minutes of the game under an absolute hailstorm of shots but held strong, and Nordin finished off the Finns via an empty net goal with 40 seconds left.
And so it is Sweden who will face the United States in Monday’s semi-final. Though this is not the same Sweden team that upset the Americans in Torino, they were the better team today. It’s no small feat to put three pucks past a goaltender like Noora Raty. Sweden will take a ton of confidence into the semis, while Finland is left to rue what might have been.
The only team happier than Sweden might be the United States, who has to be thrilled not to have to face Raty again. Russia and Switzerland face off later today in the second quarterfinal; a match-up Monday against Canada awaits the victor.