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World junior championship: Finland stymies Sweden, Rasmus Ristolainen gets the golden goal

Rasmus Ristolainen (left) and Ville Pokka celebrate the WJC triumph (Ludvig Thunham, The Associated Press)

Rasmus Ristolainen proved fortune favours the bold, stuffing in the golden goal to give Finland a 3-2 overtime victory over rival Sweden to win the world junior gold medal.

Three times during the 4-on-4 overtime, the 19-year-old defender jumped into the play, looking to create an opportunity for Finland to deny Sweden its chance to win the WJC on home ice. Finally, after tournanment scoring leader Teuvo Teravainen made a deft play to keep the puck inside the Sweden blueline, Ristolainen cut in from the corner to the left of the net and tucked a backhand under goalie Oscar Dansk's right pad.

It is Finland's first medal of any colour since 2006 and first gold since 1998, when it won in Helsinki on a golden goal by Nicklas Hagman.

Ristolainen's urgency was understandable. Midway through the third period, after Finland had exasperated Sweden to nearly no end for 2½ periods by reduced the big ice at the Malmo Arena to the size of an backyard pond by clogging the middle and arraying four defenders across the blue line, Ristolainen was whistled for holding.

Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg used his timeout to set up his power play while Finland's best defender could only watch. Forty-two seconds later, Christian Djoos' rocket shot steamed through the minute lane between five players jockeying in front of the goal and into a top corner to tie the game.

That was about the only way Sweden could beat 18-year-old goalie Juuse Saros, who finished with 35 saves.

Finland's resiliency was unflagging throughout the tournament, as it kept Sweden off the board at even strength. It also allowed just a single power-play goal through its first six games of the championship. Teravainen and Saku Maenelenen were an unstoppable combo, finishing with a tournament-most 15 points and seven goals respectively.

Kivi's team led for all but 73 seconds of regulation. It opened scoring with a tally from Esa Lindell just 28 seconds after the puck drop. Throughout the opening 20 minutes, it stymied Sweden's skilled forwards, including captain and Nashville Predators standout Filip Forsberg, who was pointless after getting 12 points during his team's six wins.

Ristolainen, whose play early in the tourney was affected by a layoff stemming from a concussion and flu, was a pillar of strength throughout the contest. Nineteen-year-old Nashville prospect Mikko Vainonen, among others, also shored up the back end and limited the chances against Saros. Vainonen did get away without a penalty after a vicious elbow on Sweden star Sebastian Collberg in the second period.

Quick response in second

Sweden's 18-year-old Lucas Wallmark levelled on the power play 7:53 into the second with a low slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle that went by a screened Saros. Finland regained the lead 45 seconds later when Maenalenen scored his tournament-high seventh goal off a cross-crease pass from Teravainen.

Finland will be in the Montreal-based Group A with Canada and the United States during next season's WJC. Germany and Slovakia will also be in the group. Eight Finns, including star goalie Saros and Swift Current Broncos defenceman Julius Honka, can return.

Sweden will play in the Toronto-based Group B with the Czech Republic, Denmark, Switzerland and Russia. Seven Swedish players — Wallmark and fellow forwards André Burakovsky, Jacob de la Rose, Anton Karlsson along with defencemen Robert Hagg and Robin Norell and No. 3 goalie Jonas Johansson — are eligible for the 2015 tournament.

Finland finished seventh, fourth and fifth at the prior three world juniors. It is also the fifth country to win the gold medal in the last six years, with the U.S. being the only two-time winner over this span. It is also the third time in five years that the gold medal was decided in overtime.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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