Wow. The first game of the World Cup of Hockey just ended, and boy was it a doozy. It took Sweden and Finland several minutes into overtime to decide the victor. The game is only a preliminary exhibition match, but you wouldn’t have known it from the level of intensity displayed on the ice. Neither team generated much offense at even strength, but the end-to-end action was still thrilling. None of the players held back, unleashing various checks and displaying quite a bit of mid-scrum chippiness. If this is a sign of things to come, hockey fans should be glued to the TV for the remainder of the World Cup of Hockey.
The First Period: 0-0
The game initially began without a whole lot of action. Both teams are still adjusting to the recent line combinations and new coaching staff, and that unfamiliarity was evident throughout the game. Finland pressured early, but the silky Swedes responded during the second half with intense pressure in the offensive zone. Pekka Rinne was tested a number of times but didn’t break, keeping the score at 0-0.
I have a feeling discipline will be addressed in the post-game meeting with both teams. Sweden and Finland amassed 5 penalties in the first period, with Sweden incurring 3 of the lot. Markstrom and the Swedish PK snuffed out all of Finland’s attempts to score, but the coaching staff can’t be pleased with the prevalence of PIMs.
The Second Period: 1-1
The second period was much more eventful for the Swedes, and not in the good way. Oliver Ekman-Larsson appeared to score the early goal, but a ref waved it off. Marcus Kruger was ruled to have been in the paint, disallowing the goal by IIHF standards. As per NHL rules, there was no interference, but the call on the ice stood. Unlike the goals, the PIMs continued to mount as Sweden accrued 3 more infractions. Finland should have been called on a couple of penalties, but the refs largely let the team off easy.
The Finnish power play continued to be ineffective until Alex Barkov finally broke the tie and gave Finland the 1-0 lead. The lead, however, was short-lived as Sweden answered when Loui Eriksson banked the puck off of Rinne’s skate. That guy is going to have a field day alongside the Sedins twins. The game remained tied for the rest of the period, with Sweden continuing to apply pressure in the Finnish zone.
The Third Period: 2-2
Finland and Sweden exchanged several chances in the third period, but neither generated much in the way of 5v5 offense. Several missed opportunities and deflected passes helped keep the game tied. The 1-1 draw was not to last, as Carl Soderberg zipped a puck right through Rinne’s five-hole. Not pretty, but the go-ahead score got the job done.
Unfortunately for the Swedes, Mikael Granlund was hungry for some pre-tournament overtime action. A bad read by Stralman left Granlund with no option but to shoot the puck at a tight angle. The shot glanced off of Jhonas Enroth’s arm and into the net. Once again, tie game. The 2-2 score held until the end of the third period, necessitating 3-on-3 overtime.
Free Hockey: 3-2 Finland
Finland had no business winning this game. Sweden completely dominated the overtime period, with the Sedins twins and Erik Karlsson leading the charge. The Swedes cut around the net and nearly cashed in on several dangerous chances. Miraculously, the Finns managed to hold on for nearly three minutes. Eventually, the Swedish team made one mistake, leading to a 2-on-1 led by Olli Maatta and Alex Barkov. A Maatta OT goal isn’t how I pictured this game ending, but it got the job done. Finland took the opener 3-2.
The Patrik Laine Effect
You’re probably wondering how Patrik Laine did alongside Barkov and Jokinen. To be honest, there’s not much to write home about. Laine was given roughly 5 minutes of power play time, but the Finnish special teams unit didn’t open up enough shooting lanes for him to be effective. At 5v5, Patrik had 9 minutes of playtime. Sweden’s defenders largely kept him in check, forcing passes to linemates or offensive zone turnovers. You can’t fault Laine for that when he’s an inexperienced 18-year old going against the likes of Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson.
Laine did have a few nifty passes across the slot, all of which the receivers either janked or missed completely. As the young winger continues to get ice-time, he’ll likely find his spacing and start potting some goals. Laine’s first game, however, was relatively quiet. Against a superior Swedish squad, that’s no surprise. Look for him to earn some points this coming Saturday against the Swedes.