Minsk, Belarus (SportsNetwork.com) - Finland lost its first two games of the 2014 World Hockey Championship tournament and needed help just to reach the quarterfinals, but will still play for gold on Sunday against the unbeaten Russians.
The Finns came away with a 3-0 victory over the Czech Republic in the second semifinal game Saturday after the Russians advanced with a 3-1 triumph over Sweden.
Sunday's gold medal game will be a rematch of an earlier contest in this tournament, a 4-2 Russia win in the preliminary round. The stakes, however, will be much higher and the Finns will try to again rise to the occasion, much the same way they did during the Olympics in February. Finland knocked Russia out of the Sochi Games with a 3-1 victory in the quarterfinals.
Jori Lehtera scored twice on Saturday and Pekka Rinne made 20 saves in his third shutout of the tournament to propel the Finns into the gold medal game. Lehtera opened the scoring at 8:57 of the first period with a backhander and Jarkko Immonen made it 2-0 on a power play with a stuffer from the left side of the net midway through the second.
Rinne had to face just six shots in the first period and seven more in the second before turning aside seven in the third. The Czechs pulled goaltender Alexander Salak in the final minutes and had good chances at the Finnish net, but could not put one past Rinne.
Lehtera then scored into an empty net with 11 seconds remaining to seal it.
It's been an unlikely run for Finland, which has only a handful of NHL players on its roster and last won world hockey gold in 2011.
The Finns fell to Latvia and Russia in their first two round-robin games, then had to watch on the final day of the preliminary round to find out their quarterfinal fate. After Switzerland knocked off Latvia, the Finns qualified for the knockout round and surprisingly eliminated Canada in the quarterfinals prior to Saturday's triumph.
Russia has had no such trouble in the tournament, outscoring the opposition 37-8 in winning each of its nine games. Included in that run was the 4-2 win over Finland on the first Sunday of the tournament two weeks ago.
On Saturday, Sergei Bobrovsky made 22 saves after allowing an early goal while Sergei Plotnikov, Sergei Shirokov and Anton Belov scored for Russia.
Oscar Moller scored the lone goal for Sweden, the defending world champs, while Anders Nilsson made 31 saves in defeat.
Moller gave Sweden the lead just 19 seconds into the game with a breakaway goal, tucking a shot between Bobrovsky's pads, but the Russians scored twice before the end of the opening stanza.
Plotnikov tied it with 6:35 left in the period on a rebound from the low left circle and Shirokov put Russia ahead with two minutes remaining on a screened shot from the slot.
Bobrovsky kept Russia in front with a brilliant glove save on Moller in the second and Belov made it 3-1 midway through the period, beating Nilsson with a shot from the top of the left circle.
The Swedes nearly pulled within one with just 1:40 to play in the third, but a video review determined the net was dislodged before the puck crossed the goal line.
Sweden and the Czech Republic will play for the bronze medal Sunday. The Czechs won bronze in 2011 and 2012 after their last gold medal in 2010.