With the US and Canada remaining on top of the women’s hockey world, Finland and (the Olympic Athletes from) Russia duked it out to see who the best team in Europe was at these Olympics. Earlier in the tournament the two battled in group play with the Finns storming to a 5-1 win.
This time around, the score was closer, but the result was the same; the veteran Finns took home their third Olympic bronze medal with a 3-2 win over the Russian squad.
Finland opened the scoring early in the first on the power play. With Maria Batalova in the box for a cross-check, Petra Nieminen tipped a Minnamari Tuominen backhander past Nadezhda Morozova to put Finland ahead. They would lead for the rest of the game.
At the start of the second, Susanna Tapani made some history with Finland’s second goal, burying a beautiful backhanded feed from Michelle Karvinen to double the lead. Not only was it a key insurance goal, it was also a historic goal — the fastest from the start of a period in Olympic women’s hockey history.
Down two, and having to face one of the best goalies in the world in Noora Räty, the OAR could’ve just given up and let their boat float absentmindedly in the sea of the medal round.
But they didn’t.
Two and a half minutes later, they got back in it through their captain. Lyudmila Belyakova fired a cross-ice pass to Olga Sosina, who ripped one high-glove on Räty. The lead was cut to 2-1, and it was game on.
Finland restored their two-goal cushion midway through the period. Linda Välimäki scored a highlight reel goal when she dangled around Morozova with the puck on her backhand, and tapped it into the open net.
OAR wouldn’t go away without a fight, making it a one-goal game early in the third. With Jenni Hiirikoski in the box serving a tripping penalty, Batalova sprung Belyakova on a breakaway with a fantastic long pass, and Belyakova buried a backhander past Räty to cut the lead to 3-2.
But despite the Russians’ greatest efforts, they were unable to find an equalizer. Although they did come close; Sosina had a late chance that was deflected wide by Ronja Savolainen. As the buzzer sounded, Anna Shokina kicked a Finnish player and earned a game misconduct.
Räty made 20 saves for Finland, while Morozova stopped 19 for OAR.
For the Finns, a largely-veteran group was looking to redeem themselves from a disappointing fifth-place finish in Sochi, and did just that. Youngsters including Savolainen and Nieminen showed that though some of the players on the team were playing in their last Olympics, the future for the Naisleijonat remains bright.
As for the Russian squad, they were the youngest team in the tournament and finished just a goal away from a medal. Their development over the next four years will be interesting to watch. Don’t be surprised if this team is on the podium in Beijing in 2022.