Vatanen Earns Three Assists in Finland's 8-4 Victory over Austria
SOCHI -- The depth of talent for Finland allowed a misstep to be avoided in its opening game of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Austria scored twice in the first 10 minutes, including a shocking goal on the first shift, before Finland rallied with goals by six players in an 8-4 victory at Bolshoy Ice Dome in a Group B preliminary-round game Thursday afternoon.
The Finns know that is no recipe for success in a tournament loaded with superpowers.
"I think we have to get back to being tighter defensively," said Finland defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who said the early start (noon local time) and the larger ice surface contributed to some of his team's sluggishness. "Hopefully we can score three or four goals a game and that should be enough against these good countries. That was [the] first game, probably not the best one Finland played, but we take it and move on."
Finland was able to overcome a hat trick by Austria forward Michael Grabner. Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild and Jarkko Immonen, a late addition as an injury replacement, each scored twice for the winners.
The victory was tempered slightly by the absence of Teemu Selanne, the Finland captain. The Anaheim Ducks forward appeared to be injured in the first period and did not play during the final 40 minutes.
Finland coach Erkka Westerlund said Selanne suffered a "small upper-body injury" and should be available Friday against Norway.
Grabner of the New York Islanders, one of three NHL players on the Austrian roster, shocked the Finns when he rifled a one-timer past goalie Tuukka Rask, of the Boston Bruins, 36 seconds into the game. The speedy wing would add two third-period goals to complete the first hat trick of this tournament.
"It's always nice and fun to score goals, but at the same time you want to win games," Grabner said. "Unfortunately, today we gave them too many chances and they capitalized on most of them."
A little less than five minutes after Grabner's first goal, Granlund tied the game 1-1. Austria's Thomas Hundertpfund then gave his team a second unexpected lead, with goals on two of its first three shots.
Hundertpfund's goal served as a wake-up call for the Finns.
"We weren't ready; they got the goal and even battled back a couple of times there," said Rask, who finished with 14 saves. "It's not a good start, but a good thing that we never let our guard down, we just kept going."
The defensive breakdowns prevalent on the first two goals were temporarily eradicated (they returned in the third period) and the offense found its stride, scoring two goals in eight seconds in the final minute of the first period.
First, Olli Maatta, the precocious defenseman from the Pittsburgh Penguins, fired a low slap shot through traffic to beat Austrian goalie Bernhard Starkbaum for a 3-2 lead at 19:25. The goal was redemption for Maatta, who was one the ice for each of Austria's first two goals and had Hundertpfund's bounce off his skate past Rask.
Immonen then scored by pouncing on a rebound and shoveling it home with 27 seconds remaining for a 4-2 lead.
"The last two goals in the last minute, they hurt a lot," Grabner said. "To end the period 2-2, it's a lot better feeling than 4-2. It's always tough because now you have to play some comeback hockey. When you get scored on in the last minute, it gets the morale of the team down a little bit and then you have to work it back up. But it is tough against a team like that that is so skilled and so fast."
Sami Lepisto scored Finland's other goal in the first period. Finland, expected to battle Canada for first place in Group B, added to its lead with two goals in the second.
Petri Kontiola, moved up after the departure of Selanne, figured in both. His pass set up Jussi Jokinen's rebound goal, and 27 seconds later Kontiola pounced on a rebound of a Granlund shot and banked it off Starkbaum for Finland's sixth goal.
Selanne played eight shifts in the first period, totaling 5:27. He had an assist on the first goal by Granlund, registered a shot and was plus-1. During the first period, Finnish trainers were working on Selanne's neck area while he sat on the bench.
Starkbaum made 44 saves in a performance which was, at times, brilliant.
"He is not the reason we lost this game," said Austrian coach Manny Viveiros said, who blamed his team's indecisiveness for the unflattering scoreline.
Austria plays Canada, the group favorite, Friday.