When Bobby Ryan slammed home a rebound just 1:39 into the third period to put Team USA up 2-1 against Finland, it appeared that the U.S. had punched its ticket into the semifinals at the World Championships. At that point, the Americans had taken control of the play and seemed poised to put the game away.
With just one more goal, the U.S. would have broken the spirit of the defending champions of the tournament. For whatever reason, however, Team USA decided to sit back in an attempt to protect the lead, which eventually led to a stunning 3-2 loss.
After Ryan’s goal, Finland slowly began building momentum with a series of strong shifts. The Finns top line of Jussi Jokinen, Valtteri Filppula, and Mikko Koivu were especially strong in the third, constantly cycling down low in the Americans’ defensive zone, which began to slowly wear the U.S. defense down. With Team USA back on its heels, Finland wrestled back control of the game as they consistently took the play to the U.S in the remainder of the third period.
U.S. goaltender Jimmy Howard did all he could to hold the lead for his team. Howard had stood on his head throughout the period, repeatedly bailing his teammates out. For a while, it appeared that the only way Finland would be able to beat the American netminder would be by getting a fluky goal.
With 6:58 remaining in the third, however, the Finns got the break they were looking for. Earlier in the shift, U.S. defenseman Jack Johnson broke his stick and was caught in front of his net, unable to change. This allowed Finnish captain Mikko Koivu to get inside position on Johnson in front of the Americans’ net. Filppula had cycled out of the corner and sent the puck to the front of the net where, with Johnson unable to deflect the puck away due to not having his stick, it caromed off Koivu’s skate to tie the game at 2 for Finland.
After the tying goal, Team USA began to push back and the game seemed destined for overtime. However, with just 8.8 seconds left, Finland’s Jesse Joensuu banged home a pass from Petri Kontiola to score his second of the night and put the Finns up 3-2, while simultaneously handing Team USA a crushing defeat.
So where did it all go wrong for Team USA? The answer is a little more complicated than you might think.
After Ryan’s goal, the U.S. sat back in a shell to try to win the game 2-1. Yet, after going up 2-1, the Americans had all the momentum. Instead of playing not to lose, Team USA needed to keep playing the attacking, physical style that had got them this far in the tournament, not sit back in a defensive shell.
The U.S. was also playing on the road. If they had been playing anyone else in the tournament, they would have been playing at a neutral sight. But they weren’t playing anyone else, they were playing Finland in Helsinki.
The arena was packed with fans who not only gave their home team a boost, but also seemed to will them to victory in the third. There’s no denying that a raucous home crowd is an advantage, especially in a one game elimination scenario. Perhaps if the Americans had been playing in the States, the result may have been the other way around.
Another aspect of Team USA’s loss to Finland is that it is extremely difficult to beat a team twice in a short tournament like the World Championships. Just look at the other quarterfinal results. Both Canada and Sweden were defeated by teams they had beaten in the preliminary round.Canada lost to Slovakia after beating them 3-2 and Sweden lost to the Czech Republic after beating them 4-1. Only Russia was able to beat a team they had already beaten in the tournament, defeating Norway 5-2 in a game that was closer than the score suggested.
When the U.S. looks back at this tournament, it will be filled with what ifs and what could have beens. The Americans looked they were more than capable of winning a medal, but in the end, fell short of that goal. Oh, what could have been.