Finland will play in the final of the World Ice Hockey Championships on Sunday against Canada after a 1-0 win in the semi-final over Russia.
Marko Anttila pounced on a rebound late in the third period to send Finland into the final and their supporters into raptures. Nicknamed the 'Red Machine', Russia were the clear favourites to advance to the final, having come through the tournament unbeaten and scoring 40 goals in their eight games. However, a solid defensive display by the Leijonat (or Lions) and in particular a 'Player of the Game' performance from Finland's goaltender Kevin Lankinen gave Finland the unlikely victory.
Tight and tense
Finland had a very strong start to the first period, but failed to capitalise on a number of excellent goal-scoring opportunities. Anttila, scorer of the dramatic late equaliser against Sweden in the quarter-final against Sweden, had a clear sight of goal in the very first minute but was denied by Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevski.
Another big chance fell to defenseman Mikko Lehtonen midway through the period, but Vasilevski came to his team's rescue again. After these early scares, Russia slowly began to grow into the game and had a number of efforts on Lankinen's goal, but the period ended goalless.
Finland began the second period much as they had the first, and Niko Ojamäki was very unlucky not to give the Lions a deserved lead when his shot came back off the post. Russia's best chance of the game up to this point fell to Kirill Kaprizov, but Lankinen made a sharp save. The score remained 0-0 at the end of the second period, despite both teams accumulating a total of 45 shots on goal between them.
The third period started badly for the Lions, with Oliwer Kaski sent to the sin bin for an infringement. Finland survived the 5-on-4 Russian power play, with Lankinen again instrumental in frustrating the Russian attack.
With nine minutes left on the clock, and the game looking like it was heading into overtime, Henri Jokiharju's shot bounced off a Russian defender and fell at the feet of captain Anttila, who swept the puck through the legs of Vasilevski and into the Russian net.
Russia searched desperately for an equalising goal in the closing stages, but Lankinen and the Finnish defense held firm as the clock ticked down to zero.
The Lions last won the World Championships in 2011, which was also played in Bratislava, and also came after a semi-final victory over Russia.