Maatta, Jokinen take Finland's loss hard
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 9:27 a.m.
SOCHI, Russia — Olli Maatta, the Penguins' prodigious 19-year-old defenseman, probably would have come across as disconsolate after Finland's 2-1 loss to Sweden in the Olympic semifinal Friday at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
If only he could come up with more than a handful of words at a time.
On his team: “I feel like we played pretty well. I feel like we had a chance. We couldn't finish it.”
On whether he individually took a step forward: “It's tough to think about that right now. I don't know.”
On whether this was the toughest loss he's taken: “It's up there. It's up there.”
Henrik Lundqvist made 25 saves, Erik Karlsson scored the winner in the second period, and smooth, systematic Sweden (5-0) advanced to play Canada in the gold-medal game at 7 a.m. Sunday.
Finland will play the U.S. for the bronze at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Finland was missing the top four centers on its depth chart, then learned Friday morning that goaltender Tuukka Rask — maybe the top performer at any position in the tournament to this stage — wouldn't play because of an overnight illness.
Traditionally relentless, the Finns gave their neighboring rivals a spirited game, including scoring the opening goal 6:17 into the second on Olli Jokinen's severe-angle shot through Lundqvist's pads.
Next came Maatta's main lament.
Sweden tied the score at 11:39 on Loui Eriksson's tap-in of a sharp feed by Jonathan Ericsson. Maatta had the puck in the left-wing corner with a chance to clear on his backhand. But a hard forecheck by Daniel Sedin knocked it off his blade, and the Swedes pounced within seconds.
“It was a tough play, a turnover,” Maatta said. “I lost the battle in the corner, and they made a great play. It happens.”
Karlsson, who has been superb at these Games, put Sweden up 2-1 at 16:26 with his fourth goal, a power-play blast from center point that nicked off substitute goaltender Kari Lehtonen's right arm. The classic Swedish discipline kicked in from there, and Lundqvist covered up the rest.
Maatta's first Olympics have resulted in two goals, two assists, nine shots, a plus-1 rating and, in the intangible sense, no shortage of eyebrows raised. There have been times where he's been Finland's top defenseman, notably in the quarterfinal elimination of Russia.
“Obviously, he's been unbelievable,” said Jussi Jokinen, Maatta's teammate with Finland and with the Penguins. “Lots of people didn't know much about him before coming here, and he's been one of our top two defensemen here, for sure.”
And can he bring some of that back to the Penguins?
“A ton, for sure,” Jussi Jokinen said. “He's shown already to everyone in Pittsburgh that he can play with the best players, and he showed here that he can play in the Olympics, too.”
Jussi Jokinen, who has a goal and two assists, couldn't have been taking the loss too well, either. This was his second Olympics, and the Finns have a tradition of advancing deep but falling. Since the NHL started sending players to the Games in 1998, they've got a silver and two bronzes to show for five tournaments.
“It's very disappointing,” Jussi Jokinen said. “These are the chances you don't get too often. It's four more years, and we don't know if NHL players will be out there after these Olympics. It's a tough pill to swallow.”
Not that the Finns plan to turn up their noses in the bronze-medal game.
“It's always a medal. It's the Olympics,” Maatta said. “I don't think anyone will find it hard to find motivation (Saturday). Everyone wants to win.”
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.
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