Selanne still can shine
Finland captain leads team to exciting win over RussiaPosted: Monday February 18, 2002 6:19 PM
Updated: Monday February 18, 2002 6:56 PM
If you love hockey, you surely enjoyed this game. It is a hockey rivalry that is unheralded, but runs deeper than folks in North America realize.
And the big, bad Russians came out to crush their tiny northern neighbors only to be thwarted by a goalie named Jani Hurme and a couple of clanks of the iron. Only a Pavel Bure blast found the back twine. All of those early missed opportunities were not inconsequential late.
In the second, the Finns finally found their collective skating legs. Much as the Russians relied on Bure to spark the attack, it was Teemu Selanne who led the Finnish charge. He was aggressive in the trenches and electric in the open ice, a combination that made him a prolific scorer for most of his career, but has not been consistently present over the last couple of seasons. But big games belong to the biggest stars for a reason -- they seize the moment and make it theirs.
Despite diminished production of late, Selanne is still a superstar -- witness his breakaway goal to tie the score in the second. Teams derive confidence from the best players delivering. The Finns thrived on Selanneís star turn example, leading to the go-ahead goal by the grinding line on a nice play by Juha Yulonen and a nifty finish by Mikko Eloranta.
At stake in this game was the second seed in the bracket behind Team USA, but the Finns were playing for national pride -- the way they always have against the larger nations, especially Russia. The passion exhibited by Finland was palpable, second only to the all-out emotion reserved for games versus Sweden. And the Russians couldnít match the Finns' resolve.
Russia sagged noticeably, firing only six shots in the second period and standing around to start the third, allowing Jere Lehtinen to poke home a loose puck on the power play. After that, the defensive posture of the Finns led to numerous mid-ice turnovers by the Russians, with Finland countering quickly on the resulting outnumbered rushes.
Then frustration on the part of Russia. Alexei Kovalev lashes out and punches Jarkko Ruutu. Bure then delivers a high-stick in response to Kimmo Timonenís perfectly timed stick-check on a potential breakaway. All that remained were a couple of brilliant saves by Hurme down the stretch for good measure, completing a great comeback -- not just turning their game around today, but recovering from a 6-0 drubbing in Game 1 at the hands of Team USA.
Goaltender: Hurme was the reason the Russians didnít run away in the first period. His performance gave the Finns confidence -- the incentive to play better and compete to win. When your team responds the way Finland did to Hurmeís early heroics, it is one of the most rewarding experiences a goaltender experiences.
Defenseman: Timonen made two monumental plays -- the outlet feed to spring Selanne and the backcheck to deny Bure. In between, he was dependable in every situation.
Forward: Selanne is Finlandís captain in Saku Koivuís absence. Every team needs a leader, someone to back up his words with actions. Selanne did that and as always, did it with flash.
Darren Eliot, a former NHL goaltender, is a hockey analyst for CNN/Sports Illustrated and will provide Olympic hockey commentary throughout the Games for CNNSI.com.