Finland defeated archrival Sweden Saturday morning with a dominant performance that punched their ticket to the semifinals.
Finland’s speed, cohesiveness, and full sixty minutes of intensity doomed Sweden almost from the start. The Damkronorna looked outmatched most of the game. They managed just three shots in the first period, the defense corps frequently looked lost, and any trace of momentum was quickly snuffed out by the relentless Finnish attack.
The first two goals came from the youngest and oldest Naisleijonat. 18-year-old Petra Nieminen opened the scoring at 6:12, beating veteran Team Sweden goaltender Sara Grahn on a pass from Venla Hovi. Riikka Välilä (formerly Nieminen, no relation) followed just under five minutes later. The veteran and legend scored an unusual goal with an unusual tool: her chin. The goal was originally credited to Isa Rahunen but it was ultimately given to Välilä with Rahunen getting the assist.
Välilä, who is 44 years old, in case anyone somehow remains unaware, now sits at second in tournament goal scoring with four goals in four games including the two she scored against Sweden. Her fitness and skill are truly remarkable; she played 20:50 and saw time on the power play and the penalty kill.
Sweden’s frustration emerged after the second Finnish goal. Maria Lindh took a tripping minor and the ever-dangerous Susanna Tapani capitalized with just six seconds left on the power play. Her first of the tournament put Finland up 3-0 with just three shots against the veteran Grahn.
Team Sweden coach Leif Boork opted to pull Grahn heading into the second as Sarah Berglind made her Olympic debut. Berglind was unable to stop the bleeding as the Finnish onslaught continued. Once again, Sweden found themselves hemmed in their own zone with tired defenders unable to make a change and Finland’s Michelle Karvinen scored at 27:14 to put the Naisleijonat up 4-0.
Boork took a strategic challenge for goaltender interference in the infinitesimal chance Finnish defender Minttu Tuominen made contact with Berglind, but a quick review confirmed the call on the ice.
Karvinen’s Luleå HF teammate Emma Nordin got Sweden on the board with a goal at 28:53, but Finland answered right back as Välilä netted her second of the game not even a minute later.
Sweden was unable to take advantage of a Tapani penalty and took a pair of minors at the end of the period. Rebecca Stenberg got a breakaway after Johanna Fällman took an ill-advised delay of game minor and beat Noora Räty glove side, narrowing the gap to three goals. Räty is used to a heavy workload and huge expectations; she fought the puck at times during the game but she steadied her play and kept the door shut for the rest of the game.
The third period saw an unhappy Damkronorna squad take two more minors and suffer two more Finnish goals. Emma Nuutinen and Sanni Hakala took Finland to a commanding 7-2 victory while Sweden’s medal hopes evaporated into thin air.
This game represented more than a great rivalry: this is the tale of two programs that have gone in vastly different directions since their respective disappointments at Sochi four years ago. The Swedish program has suffered greatly, while Finland’s slow and steady growth and investments are beginning to bear fruit. Sweden is not without hope as they’re finally rid of Leif Boork, but their Federation must commit both money and resources to the women if progress is to be made. Meanwhile, a changing of the Finnish guard is coming over the next four years, but there’s plenty left in this group and they know it.
Finland faces the United States in the semifinals on Monday.