Czech great scores twice to finish off Finns
It’s what legends are made of. Jaromir Jagr scored twice, including the late winner, as the host Czechs beat Finland 5-3 to make the semi-finals versus Canada.
The 43-year-old IIHF Triple Gold Club member picked up the puck behind the net after Janne Pesonen handed it away. He came around Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne’s left post, and fired it through the gap between the kneeling netminder’s left arm and his body – with just 4:30 left in the third period.
Jagr, the fourth-leading scorer in NHL history, finished with a three-point night. Jan Kovar also stepped up with two goals and an assist for the Czechs, and captain Jakub Voracek added two assists. Vladimir Sobotka added an empty-netter.
Jubilation reigned in Prague as the Czechs are guaranteed to compete for their first medal since 2012’s bronze. Their last gold medal was 2010.
Finland’s last medal was silver in 2014, as it lost to Russia in the final. This is the first time the Finns won’t play for a medal since 2010.
Czech goalie Ondrej Pavelec got the better of Rinne as shots on goal favoured the Czechs 32-22.
The previous time the Czech Republic played a World Championship quarter-final in this building, it ended in heartbreak as the Americans eliminated them with a 3-2 shootout win in 2004.
But this was a triumphant end to a day when the host nation set a new tournament attendance record of 676,979, with four games left to play.
The Finns entered this game with the tournament’s best penalty-killing, having conceded zero goals on 16 disadvantages. Yet here, the Czechs burned them for two power play goals.
The sell-out O2 Arena crowd of 17,383 was vocal and passionate as the Czechs controlled the play in the first period, although the Finns’ stingy defensive style limited scoring chances.
At 8:56, Jan Kovar opened the scoring for the Czechs on a great east-west set-up. Jakub Klepis came down the left side and threw the puck across to the far side to Martin Erat, who centered it in the middle to Kovar, and he whipped it through the kneeling Rinne’s pads.
Sobotka was fired up, laying out Finnish blueliner Topi Jaakola on the forecheck and coming within a hair’s breadth on a great opportunity from the left faceoff circle.
It was amusing to hear the crowd chanting “Ondrej Pavelec!” in the first period, considering how little work he got. Shots favoured the Czechs 12-4. It took the Finns more than half the period to register their first shot.
The Finns tied it up with 2:41 left in the first. Tuomo Ruutu got his first of the tournament, corralling a loose puck in front after a Petri Kontiola centre point drive and whirling to fire it into the gaping cage.
Just 3:45 into the second period, Finland went up 2-1. Donskoi set up Sami Lepisto for a one-timer from the left side, and Jokinen was right in position to push the rebound through Pavelec’s legs.
Tempers flared midway through the period as Lepisto and Michal Jordan got into a shoving match and were sent off with coincidental roughing minors.
During the 4-on-4 sequence, Pavelec stood his ground on a Finnish odd-man rush featuring Leo Komarov, who looked sideways before zinging a shot on goal.
The place went ballistic when Jagr made it 2-2 on a Czech power play at 13:51. He was perfectly positioned in front of the net to accept the puck when Voracek put it toward the goal, and he went to the backhand to roof it beautifully over Rinne.
Things continued to heat up as Jarkko Immonen got his stick up on Sobotka at the dot on the ensuing centre ice faceoff. Both were sent off.
The Finns thought they’d taken the lead again with 5:19 left in the period when Kontiola bulled his way to the net, pushing Jordan and Jan Kolar into Pavelec’s crease. The puck was batted over the line, but the goal was called back and Kontiola got an interference penalty.
Kovar gave the Czechs a 3-2 lead at 15:28 on the ensuing 4-on-3 man advantage. Jagr was in front to grab a loose puck from Voracek’s release, and the hulking winger put it to Rinne’s right for Kovar to lift into the open side.
Gritty and persistent, the Finns fought back to make it 3-3 at 4:24 of the third period. Jokinen and Barkov worked a sweet give-and-go deep in the Czech zone, with Jokinen centering it from behind the goal line for his young Florida teammate to fire over a kneeling Pavelec.
After Jagr’s go-ahead goal, Finland pulled Rinne for the extra attacker with 1:22 left and came on strong. Pavelec made some game-saving stops in the final minute with Barkov and Esa Lindell furiously banging away in his crease.
Sobotka’s empty-net goal came with 22 seconds remaining.
The last meeting between these two nations was a 3-0 Finnish win in the 2014 World Championship semi-finals, with Rinne recording the shutout.
With speculation rampant about his health, Jagr played in the quarter-final after logging just 1:55 in the 2-1 shootout win over Switzerland that closed the round-robin. And Czech fans are overjoyed that he did.