Sun, May 11, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Finns rally to beat gritty Latvians at Ice Hockey worlds

AFP , HALIFAX, CANADA

Niko Kapanen scored the winner halfway through the final period as Finland survived a scare to beat Latvia 2-1 in the qualification round of the World Ice Hockey Championships on Friday.

With the come-from-behind win, the Finns moved into second place in Group F behind defending champion Canada.

Kapanen took a nice backhand pass from Sami Lepisto then sailed a shot over the shoulder of Latvian goaltender Edgars Masalskis with 9:56 left in the third.

“We didn’t expect it was going to be that tough,” Finnish forward Teemu Selanne said. “We had over 60 shots so it is frustrating when you can’t score more than that. The good thing is that we found a way to win.”

Russia needed a penalty shootout in Quebec City to beat Belarus 2-1 in the only other qualification game.

Despite being the heavy favorite and outshooting their opponents 64-27, the Finns struggled to score on Friday at the Halifax Metro Center.

One day earlier, defending champion Canada dodged a bullet by beating lowly Norway 2-1 and the US was spared blushes against Germany by posting a 6-4 victory.

Selanne says the close calls for the top seeds is a good thing because it makes the games more exciting and brings more parity to the 16-team event.

“I think it is great. If we beat Latvia 8-0 and Canada beats Norway 10-1 then people will say there are too many teams in the tournament,” Selanne said.

Lauris Darzins opened the scoring for Latvia before the game was two minutes old. Darzins wheeled around the net and tucked the puck behind Finnish goalie Niklas Backstrom.

There was a steady parade of Latvian players to the penalty box in the first period as they took seven penalties.

Latvian goalie Masalskis had to be at his acrobatic best as he faced 36 shots in the opening frame. Latvia had just five shots on the Finnish goal in the first.

“That is the most shots I have ever faced in a period,” Masalskis said. “I am pretty tired. It was crazy. There were so many penalties we didn’t let in a shorthanded goal.”

Heading into Friday’s game, Finland had one of the best power plays in the tournament, scoring on 35.29 percent of their chances. But on Friday they went zero-for-14.

“We didn’t capitalize on our opportunities,” Finnish coach Doug Shedden said. “You give a team confidence and their goalie gets hot and then they will hang around and hang around and make it into a horror movie. We won the game. It wasn’t the score that everybody wanted, but it was the result that we wanted.”

Saku Koivu played his first game for Finland. The Montreal Canadiens captain joined the team this week after his National Hockey League club was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Koivu failed to register a point on Friday while playing on a line with Selanne and Ville Peltonen.

It took half a game and 43 shots for Finland to score its first goal.

In Quebec City, Alexei Morozov scored the winner in a shootout as Russia had to beat back a strong challenge from Belarus.

Maxim Afinogenov, with two, and Alex Ovechkin scored in regulation time for Russia.

Andrei Mikhalev, Dmitry Dudik and Alexei Ugarov scored for Belarus who jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period before the Russians rallied with three unanswered goals.

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