The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/17/12 at 02:54 PM ET
Team USA stopped playing and started trapping halfway through the third period of a game they led 2-1 over Finland, and despite nothing less than valiant goaltending from one Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, the Americans were lulled into trying to beat the Finnish trap by trying to replicate it, and were defeated by it.
With the Finnish first line of Valtteri Filppula, Mikko Koivu and Jussi Jokinen literally playing every other shift, Koivu tied the game with 6:58 left on a slick Filppula on the right side of the net-behind-the-net to Jokinen to-the-slot for an unmolested (and trust me, the Russian refs let a lot of grabs, gropes, cross-checks and prostate exams go in this one) skate tap-in that Howard had no chance on, and with eight seconds left in regulation, a bizarre carom off the end boards yielded Petri Kontiola finding, again, a wide open Jesse Joensuu in the slot, again, with Howard having as much of a chance to stop the shot as he did so many of those Nashville goals in the first round.
As such, Finland won 3-2 and will tangle with the Russians on Saturday.
And after Slovakia upset Canada and Russia out-lasted Norway, we’re looking at Finland vs. Russia (at 11:30 AM on Saturday) and Slovakia vs. the winner of the Sweden-Czech Republic game (2:15 PM EDT, NBC Sports/TSN) in the World Championship Semifinals on Saturday (the other semifinal will take place at 7:30 AM on Saturday), with perhaps the Finns and Slovaks looking like underdogs, but not teams that should be taken lightly by any stretch of the imagination.
Howard was excellent in stopping 28 of 31 shots (including 12 of 14 in the third period)—and I would argue that Joensuu’s first goal, which picked the right goalpost just over Howard’s blocker, was partially screened by his defenseman—and Justin Abdelakder was fantastic in the forechecking department, mucking, grinding, losing his helmet repeatedly, spending the end of the second period getting cross-checked in the throat, and going 7 and 7 in the faceoff circle, taking no shots but finishing at +1 in 14:03 of ice time…
But the Finns received the secondary scoring the Americans lacked, the Finns did not stop pushing the Americans, and when it was Jimmy Howard versus the world in the third period, Howard could only do so much when completely abandoned. Howard was named the Americans’ best player for a reason, and I cannot use the word “valiant” enough to describe his play.
As I’m listening to the post-game on NBC Sports, Bobby Ryan insists that the referees had something to do with both closing goals, but…The Russian referees were horrific for everyone, more or less “letting ‘em play” to the point that there’s less groping in a strip club, calling the occasionally ticky-tack foul but otherwise not only not calling much of anything, but also not explaining their rulings to the players, to the point that lots of English swear words were very visibly tossed at the refs from both sides…
Again, however, the Finns played harder for longer and the Finns played with more poise, panache, and, “Meh, if they don’t call anything, we’ll just battle through the Americans and know that we can pounce on their lapses in focus” (the Americans never really displayed any cohesion throughout the tournament) resolve, and that’s why they’ll play Pavel Datsyuk’s Russians on Saturday.
Filppula played only 19:24 and he registered an assist and 2 shots, but in the second and especially third periods, Filppula, Koivu and Jokinen were very literally on the ice for every other shift, and while the Finns don’t have the kind of puck-moving defensemen necessary to keep up with the Russian offensive machine, at least on paper…Single-game elimination tournaments favor teams like Finland, who can put everything together at the right time and prevail over any team with cracks in its mental game.
Moving toward the day’s final Quarterfinal, I can say this much: every player that’s played has displayed the kind of form you want Red Wings participating in the Worlds to display—Quincey’s shored up his mistake-prone game, Tatar’s brash, slick and gritty, Abdelkader skated like he needs to to play an extraordinarily nasty, difference-making game as a forechecker and instigator, Howard was excellent and equal parts desperately diving about the crease and poised, polished and elegant, Filppula absolutely dazzles as a playmaking winger who actually has a nose for the net, and Datsyuk looked like the perfect set-up man on Semin’s wing while dominating on faceoffs, swiping pucks away from opposing players with ease and playing stainless steel defensive hockey.
Now we’re about to find out whether Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Calle Jarnkrok, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson can stand up to the plucky Czechs.
Update: In the “for further reading” department, DetroitRedWings.com’s Rick Bouwness spoke to Tomas Jurco about opening the Memorial Cup tournament on Saturday. Jurco and his Saint John Sea Dogs are attempting to repeat as Memorial Cup champs:
“Winning a second straight Memorial Cup would be a great accomplishment,” said Jurco, in an exclusive phone interview with DetroitRedWings.com. “Our team has a lot of talent and a lot of character and it is amazing being a part of such a special group. Hopefully we can play well at the tournament again this year and win another title for the city of Saint John.”
After winning 50 games and earning their third straight QMJHL regular season title, the Sea Dogs blew away the competition in this year’s President’s Cup playoffs. The Port City’s major junior squad went 16-1 in the postseason en route to repeating as league champs and earning a berth in the four-team Memorial Cup tourney where they’ll battle the OHL’s London Knights, WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, and the Shawinigan Cataractes – the tournament hosts – of the QMJHL for junior hockey’s ultimate prize.
Despite missing time with an upper body injury, Jurco tallied 13 goals and 16 assists during Saint John’s recent playoff run, good for fourth place on the star-laden squad. In the QMJHL championship series against Rimouski, Jurco registered five goals and five assists during an impressive four-game sweep of the Oceanic.
Jurco’s coach, former Red Wings sniper Gerard Gallant, has been impressed with his skilled winger’s postseason performance.
“Tomas played really well in the playoffs and was outstanding for us in the Q finals,” Gallant said. “He put up good offensive numbers but he’s been a good all-around player as well. He was one of our best forwards at the (Memorial) Cup in Mississauga last year and we’ll be looking for him to step-up with another big performance this time around.”
Turning 20-years-old later this year, Jurco will be eligible to play in the American Hockey League next season. While a promising professional career awaits, the 6-foot-2, 193-pound. puck magician is first intent upon ending an incredible three-year run with Saint John in historic fashion later this month.
“I’m definitely looking forward to playing at the next level in the future, but right now my focus is on playing well the next couple of weeks in Shawinigan,” the dynamic playmaker said. “I can’t think of a better way to wrap-up my junior career than helping the Sea Dogs win another title.”
Update: Filppula appears in the IIHF’s post-game comment clip…
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.