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Semifinal Preview: USA vs. Finland

Can the Finns earn a semifinal upset for the second-straight World Championship and play for gold?

United States v Switzerland: Group A - 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

After some great quarterfinal action on Saturday, it’s time to turn the page to the semifinals at the 2021 Women’s World Championship! Here’s a rundown of what to expect from the first game on Monday: USA vs. Finland.

While the U.S. is favored, the Finns are a very dangerous team, and they proved it for good in 2019. They played for gold for the first time ever after beating Canada in the semifinals, then took Team USA all the way to a shootout in the gold medal game (and lost in controversial fashion after having a goal disallowed in overtime).

How We Got Here

The Americans found their offensive legs again in their quarterfinal game, after a very quiet end to the preliminary round. They routed Japan, 10-2, with seven different players scoring goals. It was a historic effort for Japan, but unfortunately not enough for them to truly challenge.

Finland played a very tight game against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. It was a 0-0 game through the first half, with the Czechs creating several quality chances and waves of pressures. They couldn’t convert on any of those shots, though, and Finland eventually took the lead in the second period on a breakaway chance. They held that lead through to the end, locking down their defense and holding off a Czech comeback.

Both the U.S. and Finland were in Group A, so they’ve faced each other once before this tournament. The result was a 3-0 win for the Americans. Shots on goal were 39-10 in favor of Team USA; the Finns did a good job of challenging the U.S. attack and limiting as many chances as they could, but they were never able to fully establish themselves and get anything going.

Keys to the Game

The U.S. offense seemed to come alive in a big way in their quarterfinal against Japan. That’s an important confidence builder heading into the semifinal round. I think special teams will be a big factor in this one. Finland has a great penalty kill; they’re so far perfect at the 2021 World Championship. So is Team USA, but their power play has only converted two goals, an 11.76% success rate. Improving on that rate and getting a goal or two while up a player could have big implications for USA’s chances.

For Finland, goaltending is going to be a huge part of this one. Anni Keisala is having herself a fantastic tournament, with a shutout in the quarters over the Czechs, and Meeri Räisänen made 36 saves in the first game against Team USA. No matter who gets the nod on Monday, the Finns will need their goaltender to stand tall in net. More than anything, though, they’ll need to be prepared to match the Americans’ speed and really push the pace through the neutral zone to create breakdowns on the rush. That will give Finland their best chance of scoring and ultimately booking a berth in the gold medal game for the second straight tournament.

USA’s Key Player: Grace Zumwinkle

Zumwinkle is having an excellent tournament in her first World Championship appearance. She has four goals and six points so far, tied for the Team USA lead. While more players are getting involved in the offense for the U.S., Zumwinkle has established herself as a difference-maker here. With a laser for a shot and great instincts going to the net, she can score in bunches, and she’s done just that. She’ll be a key piece of keeping the engine going all game for the team.

Finland v Canada: Group A - 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

Finland’s Key Player: Jenni Hiirikoski

This should be no surprise, but Hiirikoski is so, so important to everything the Finns try and do. She’s a great driver of possession from the blue line and can go toe-to-toe with the best players in the world defensively. She loves carrying the puck and her elite vision makes her a constant threat, both to rush up the ice herself and to find a teammate to keep the puck moving into more threatening areas. She’ll be an important player for Finland on both sides of the game as they look to shut down USA’s offense and generate their own pressure.

How to Watch

NHL Network in the U.S., TSN in Canada, 1 p.m. Mountain time, 3 p.m. Eastern time.