HALIFAX – The United States lost its lead Sunday – and then, it lost its cool.
Mikko Koivu’s goal with 3:50 left in regulation capped a wild comeback as Finland rallied for three third-period goals in a 3-2 win over the U.S. at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
The Americans took a two-goal lead to the third after scoring twice in the second. But in the final period it was all Finns, as they scored three times on 25 shots. With Finland enjoying a power play, Koivu took the puck from the end boards, came out front and stuffed the puck past American netminder Robert Esche.
After the goal, American forward Adam Burish was tossed for a butt-ending a Finland player. Then, just as the final horn sounded to end the game, American forward Dustin Brown drilled Finnish forward Jussi Jokinen into the boards with a hit to the head. The play led to a post-game melee, and featured a fight between David Backes of the U.S. and Finland’s Amsso Salmela.
“That was a cheap shot at the end, but we took it well,” Koivu said of the Brown hit. “Jussi is fine. That’s a good thing for us.”
American head coach John Tortorella didn’t agree with the “cheap shot” assessment.
“The guy is still trying to put a puck into an empty net,” Tortorella said of Jokinen, who plays for him on the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Players are taught you never let a player try to put the puck into an empty net, no matter what has happened.
“To me, Dustin Brown, it was the right play.”
Backes and Salmela were each assessed match penalties for the end-of-game scrap. That made three for the game, as Finnish forward Olli Jokinen had already received one. The Florida Panthers captain was kicked out for a first-period, hit-from-behind check on American blue-liner Tim Gleason.
Match penalties bring with it an automatic one-game suspension, meaning Backes won’t be in the lineup for the U.S. Monday against Norway. Salmela and Jokinen will have to sit out Finland’s game Monday against Canada. Further sanctions could still be issued from the match-penalty incidents as each is automatically reviewed by the IIHF. Any further penalties would be announced Tuesday.
“I don’t even know what to think anymore,” American forward Phil Kessel said. “It was one of those games. It was hard fought. It was a battle. A lot of hitting”.
The nastiness didn’t end there. Tortorella blasted IIHF officials for allowing Finland’s first goal, which video review showed went through the side of the goal’s mesh and in.
But even with the disputed marker, Tortorella wasn’t about to let his team off the hook.
“What goal? What goal?,” Tortorella said. “They go upstairs. They look at a replay. What the hell were they looking at.
“But we deserved our fate. We deserved our fate. We didn’t deserve to win that hockey game.”
After the game, the IIHF agreed that Finland’s first goal entered through the side of the net. The IIHF wouldn’t identify the goal-judge in question, but said he was fired from the tournament.
“I’ve heard about these horror shows as far as international refereeing I have finally lived through one,” Tortorella said. “But not even that play there, the whole game. It’s just ridiculous as far as how they’re calling the game when you have two pretty competitive teams willing to go toe-to-toe. Let the teams and players decide.”
With the loss, the Americans (2-2) can now finish no better than third in its preliminary pool. The U.S. has already qualified for a spot in Wednesday’s quarter-final.
Finland (4-0) moved to within a point of the idle Canadians atop the Group F standings. The teams face off Monday in the qualifying round finale for both teams.
Tom Gilbert opened the scoring for the Americans 90 seconds into the second period. The Edmonton Oilers defenceman skated in from the blue-line and scored on a loose puck from just outside of the Finland goal crease.
Gilbert’s first goal of the tournament came one second after Olli Jokinen’s five-minute checking-from-behind penalty had ended. Jokinen, the captain of the Florida Panthers, drilled American blue-liner Tim Gleason into the boards from behind to earn the match penalty.
Both teams had numerous chances to score with the man-advantage after Gilbert’s marker, but the score held until the 19:15 mark. American forward Phil Kessel drilled a shot far corner from the right faceoff circle that cleanly beat Finland netminder Nicklas Backstrom during a U.S. power play.
Just seconds before Kessel’s goal, netminder Esche made an incredible glove stop on Koivu. On a short-handed breakout for Finland, Saku Koivu fed the puck up to his younger brother Mikko, who deked right but had his back-hand attempt go into Esche’s outstretched glove.
Two minutes into the third, Ville Koistinen scored on a one-timer during a two-man advantage to get Finland on the board. The Americans disputed the goal, claiming the puck went through the mesh on the side of the net. The play was reviewed and the goal was allowed.
A minute later, and with Finland still on the power play, Esche made another highlight save, as he stuck out the glove while laying on his chest to deny Finland’s Janne Niskala of a sure goal.
Midway through the third, Finland scored the tying goal as Saku Koivu made a nice cross-ice pass to Teemu Selanne, who made no mistake from the side of the net.