Canada headed into their first elimination match against the Finns with little to no momentum. From the outset of this tournament, the team was disorganized in their breakouts, and confused in the offensive zone. All over the ice, the team's passing was off, a symptom of players that don't know each other well, and also don't know their systems well enough to know where to stand or where to expect help.
The day off on New Year's Day appeared to help the team, as they played perhaps their strongest period of hockey in the opening frame, tightening their play in the neutral zone considerably. Gap control was shortened, and giveaways reduced as the team managed the puck much better on the attack.
The breakout and attack continued to look somewhat haphazard, but early in the game it was fourth liner Travis Konecny who set the pace for Team Canada. He made several great hits, diving defensive plays, and opened the scoring for the good guys with a nice backhand just over five minutes into the game.
Reassuringly, Canada notched another goal with 9:01 left in the third period as Julien Gauthier jumped onto a line with Dylan Strome and Lawson Crouse and the three players changed up ice on a broken play with Strome crashing the net and stuffing home a loose puck.
Canada's near-perfect period had but one blemish: the Finns answered back with a goal of their own with just 11.3 seconds left. After Canada won a defensive zone draw, their defenders bobbled a pass behind MacKenzie Blackwood's net, and on the turnover it was quick one-timer from Patrik Laine that went through Blackwood. Really, it was an entirely stoppable puck.
The second period began with over 8 minutes of hockey being played with Canada unable to produce a shot. Then suddenly, Brendon Hickey caught an edge just as the Finns were breaking out of their own zone, which left an open lane straight to the net for Antti Kalapudas who buried it against Blackwood, tying the game at two goals apiece.
Shortly thereafter, the Canadians appeared to have scored to re-take the lead, as Mitch Marner's linemates Braydon Point and Brendan Perlini poked at a puck lying between the pads of Finnish goalie Veini Vehvilainen, only to have the play reviewed and called 'no goal'.
It was just seconds after the no goal call that Crouse scored on a play almost identical to the one Finland scored on late in the first. Finnish defenders coughed up the puck after playing it behind their own net, where Jake Virtanen slipped the puck to Crouse for a quick shot that Vehvilainen probably should have stopped.
At that point, Finland decided that it would be best to change goalies, removing Vehvilainen and putting in Kaapo Kahkonen. This turned out to be a great decision, as Kahkonen came up with huge saves on Marner and Strome among others, which gave Finland the chance they would need to get back into the game.
Canada looked very dangerous on a power play that nearly went to 5-on-3, but on a delayed penalty on the already-shorthanded Finns, Virtanen had a brain cramp and took a totally unnecessary holding penalty to nullify what would have been a great chance for Canada to take back their two-goal lead.
Just over two minutes later, Perlini went to the box for slashing on something of a weak call, which gave the Finns the opening they would need. Ultimately, it was a flukey play that saw Aleksi Saarela fire the puck from below the goal line at Blackwood's leg, and the puck dribbled in. The Finns had tied the game again.
With just two minutes and 2:43 left in the second, the Finns struck again. After a great rush from Leafs' prospect Kasperi Kapanen, the Finns continued to press hard and force the Canadians into a state of panic, diving all over the ice in vain attempts to prevent passes. The play culminated in a goal fro Julius Nattinen, who chipped a puck over a sprawing Blackwood, who had already made an initial save. The Finns had taken their first lead of the game to finish off the second period.
"Canadians shit their pants when we started to play physical." -Aleksi Saarela in intermission interview.— Juha Hiitelä (@jhiitela) January 2, 2016
The third period began with the Finns taking a penalty just 1:29 into the first period for interference. On the ensuing power play, Marner had several good looks at the net, but at first, was unable to do any damage. Finally, after Travis Sanheim did some great work protecting the puck at the half wall, Point fed Marner in the slot, who moved the puck to his backhand and solved the new Finnish goalie to tie the game.
Unfortunately for the Canadian squad, the Finns jumped back in the lead moments later, as Jesse Puljujarvi took a beautiful outlet pass from Laine, and breezed past Thomas Chabot for a great chance. Sebastian Aho finished the play off, tapping the puck home past a crouched Blackwood.
Once again on the power play, Marner again came to Canada's rescue, corralling the puck after it fell off Point's stick, then curling around a couple of Finnish defenders and sending a perfect shot into the far right side top corner to tie the game at 5 for Canada.
Canada was poised to take the lead as they again went to the power play, only to have the opportunity utterly reversed by a pair of stupid Virtanen penalties on the same same play, bringing his total of stupid penalties in the game to 3, and many more on the tournament.
The teams played at 4-on-4 for just over a minute, and Marner came within inches of scoring his third of the game on two beautiful opportunities, one of which merits the highlight reel even though he didn't score:
Video game stuff. https://t.co/Sr7CiK6jET— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) January 2, 2016
After the first of Virtanen's two penalties had been killed off by Canada, Joe Hicketts attempted to clear the puck with a little too much enthusiasm, and actually managed to shoot the puck out of play at the far end of the ice over the glass, putting Canada down two men.
It was on the 5-on-3 that Finland recaptured the lead once again, with Laine scoring his second of the game on a one-timer that beat Blackwood down low.
Canada pressed back quickly, and was about to go to the power play with just over four minutes left in the game, but it was Marner's turn to take an undisciplined penalty, as he punched a Finn in the face in a scrum after the whistle.
On the 4-on-4 Canada again had good chances to tie the game but was unable to score, and with Blackwood pulled for the last minute, they again generated several good chances but were unable to score.
Finland wins this one, 6-5.