With the keys turned over to the kids, Canada found another gear at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
Evander Kane scored the winning goal Friday after John Tavares and Jeff Skinner got the team rolling and Canada pulled out a 5-3 victory over Finland that was as important as it was emotional.
Those three players have all come to the world championship after every NHL season they’ve played. The other common denominator between them? None is older than 21.
“It’s funny with this team,” said coach Brent Sutter. “It’s the youngest Canadian team ever assembled, but they’re guys that have played in the National Hockey League for a couple or three years already. They’ve also had some experience over here and it’s really shown.”
This could end up be a defining moment for the group.
Trailing 2-0 after the first period in hostile Hartwall Arena, Canada appeared to be cowering in the face of its most difficult test yet. The score was 3-1 as the midway point of the game ticked by and you had to wonder if time was becoming a factor, particularly against such a stingy opponent.
Momentum turned quickly.
Skinner found Tavares on a 2-on-1 to make it 3-2 at 14:31 before jumping off the bench, collecting a loose puck and skating right around the net to score on a wraparound at 18:18. It was a breathtaking play.
“I asked him to show me how to tap dance like that,” said Tavares. “He made some real nice moves there. ... That was a real big goal.”
Kane finished off the comeback by quickly snapping home a Corey Perry pass at 6:04 of the third period to stun the sellout crowd, which chanted “Su-o-mi! Su-o-mi!” all night for a team that had won 10 straight world championship games heading in.
Alex Burrows and Jordan Eberle also scored while Cam Ward was sharp in stopping 35 shots for Canada (4-0-1), which moved atop Group H and now controls its own destiny moving towards the medal round.
Antti Pihlstrom, Mikko Koivu and Jussi Jokinen replied for Finland (4-1-0).
The host country went from looking like it was on a path to repeat as champions to being a team trying to explain how it let a pair of two-goal leads slip away in the span of a couple hours.
“We maybe lost a little bit of confidence and we couldn’t attack any more,” said Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen. “We didn’t have courge enough to move the puck and be patient enough. ... It’s difficult to beat a team like that if you only defend.”
They had a dream start.
After weathering some Canadian pressure in the early minutes, the Finns took advantage of a neutral zone turnover by Kyle Quincey to make it 1-0. Niko Kapanen found Pihlstrom all alone at 5:33 and the building was rocking.
To make matters worse, Quincey was soon sent to the penalty box for cross-checking and teammate Dion Phaneuf followed, resulting in a 5-on-3 disadvantage. After Canada killed the first penalty, Koivu knocked home a rebound at 10:31 — prompting Sutter to call a timeout.
“We just needed to settle down,” said Skinner. “We all believed that we had a lot of time to play, we just needed to stop forcing plays. Maybe get a little bit more simple and get back to playing the way we wanted to.”
They responded with a much better second period that saw them put three goals behind Kari Lehtonen — matching the total Finland had allowed through 13 periods in the entire tournament.
After Burrows and Jokinen traded goals, Canada’s top line took over.
It’s become evident in the first week of the tournament that Sutter is comfortable leaning on the unit of Tavares, Skinner and Eberle. They’ve been the most consistent offensive players so far.
“Their line generates things,” said Sutter. “They don’t spend a lot of time in their own zone.”
After Kane gave Canada its first lead of the game in the third period, the Finns pressed hard for the tying goal. Ward made two huge stops seconds apart during a late power-play opportunity, sliding across his crease with the pads stacked on the second shot.
“I had a little old school in me and made the little two-pad stack save,” said Ward. “Some of the guys were poking fun at me that it was a Bill Ranford save at the end there.”
Eberle hit the empty night with 24.1 seconds remaining to secure the victory.
The Canadian team is banking on the fact that its core is made up of players who were part of consecutive quarter-final exits the last two years. Skinner, Tavares, Kane, Eberle — all of them know how it feels to fall short.
“It sucks going out early,” said Skinner. “I think last year we realized that. These round robins are really important games, you want to set yourself up.
“This was a big character win for us.”
Notes: Shots in the first period were 15-4 for Finland ... Duncan Keith was Canada’s leader in ice time once again with 26:12 ... Ryan Murray was scratched for Canada after the arrival of defenceman Kris Russell, who picked up an assist 24 hours after arriving in Helsinki ... Canada wraps up the round robin with games against Kazakhstan (Saturday) and Belarus (Tuesday) ... Devan Dubnyk will start in goal against Kazakhstan ... Announced attendance was 13,059.