Maxim Noreau’s goal early in the third period moved Team Canada into the Olympic hockey semifinal with a 1-0 win over Finland on Wednesday.
After a lacklustre scoreless first period, the Canadian men turned it up a notch in the second and outshot the Finns 18-10. But still there was no score. The breakthrough goal came 55 seconds into the third period with Noreau blasting a point shot stickside past Mikko Koskinen after a clean Eric O’Dell faceoff win.
The 30-year-old defenceman from Montreal, whose resume includes six games with the Minnesota Wild, plays his club hockey for SC Bern in Switzerland.
Canada gritted it out in the third after going ahead.
In other quarterfinal action Wednesday, Germany shocked Sweden 4-3 in overtime, the Russian entry downed Norway 6-1 and the Czechs edged the U.S. 3-2 in a shootout.
Canada will play Germany in one semifinal Friday while the Russians face the Czechs in the other.
The Canadians, devoid of NHL talent, are now just two wins away from an Olympic three-peat.
Ben Scrivens returned to the Canadian goal after being rested in the final preliminary-round game. But he gave way to Kevin Poulin at 4:17 of the second period after flattened by flying Finn Veli-Matti Savinainen, propelled into the crease like a guided missile thanks to a crushing O’Dell check. The Finn’s leg caught Scrivens in the head cleanly along the way.
Poulin was rock-steady in relief, stopping all 15 shots he faced. Justin Peters took over as backup on the bench with Scrivens dealing with what the team called an upper body injury.
Scrivens stopped six shots before being replaced.
Despite the high stakes, there were plenty of empty seats at the 10,000-capacity Gangneung Hockey Centre. Coupled with a less than riveting start to the game, it made for a subdued atmosphere more like a bingo evening than an Olympic playoff game.
The mood improved in the second as Canadian fans, spurred on by their team’s higher-octane play, regularly chanted “Go Canada Go.”
It was a tight opening with the physical Canadians needing five minute to get a shot on target. The Finns seemed in a higher gear. Still Koskinen, who finished with 29 saves, had to make a big reflex pad save to stop a deflection on Canada’s second shot.
Finland had a 5-4 edge in shots in a first period lacking panache. The opening period did claim a victim, however, with a Finnish trainer cut on the head when an errant puck flew into the bench at high speed.
The Canadians came out with far more purpose in the second period and Koskinen had to make an early pad save to deny an Andrew Ebbett shot. It took less than four minutes for Canada to rack up more shots than it had in the entire first period.
While Finland was on the back foot for much of the period, it had its chances. Poulin, who started the previous game against South Korea, was sharp from the get-go despite his sudden entry. He made several fine stops to keep the game scoreless.
Canada came into the game 42-14-2 against the Finns in Olympic and world championship play. The Canadians held a 6-5 edge in Olympic play.
Canada which advanced directly to the quarterfinals by virtue of being the best second-place team, finished runner-up to the Czech Republic in Group A. The Canadian men sandwiched wins of 5-1 over Switzerland and 4-0 over South Korea 4-0 around a 3-2 shootout loss to the Czechs.
The Finns, ranked fifth among the 12 teams after the opening round, were second to Sweden in Group C after defeating Germany 5-2 and Norway 5-1 before losing 3-1 to the Swedes. They advanced to the quarterfinals by beating South Korea 5-2 in a qualification game.
Finland’s 25-man roster draws on 11 from Finnish teams, 11 from the KHL, two from Switzerland and one from Sweden.
Figure skaters Patrick Chan and Eric Radford and luger Sam Edney were among the Canadians at the game.